Review by Danny Gaisin
The protagonist of Shakespeare’s last tragedy – Caius Martius, receives the honorarium of Coriolanus in recognition of his conquering Coreoles, the capital city of Rome’s enemy. He’s a war hero whose mother pushes him into seeking political power. Think of a Dwight Eisenhower; with a Rose Kennedy materfamilias! Then add in a Pierre Trudeau distaining attitude toward the common electorate and one could then have a modern parallel of the original. Coriolanus is neither a hero nor a villain, he’s both and thus his enemies become more numerous than his supporters. He’s banished; joins Rome’s enemies; is seduced by family instinct; and gets assassinated for this second betrayal.
Director Robert Lepage takes all the idioms of today to stage the story. The audience witnesses the Senate debate as though sitting in the control booth of a CNN-type TV news studio. Plot progress is advanced by projected text messages between soldiers…including an emoticon! Clever stage coverings change the onstage imagery from live to an appearance of video. We’re seeing Shakespeare in the time of tweeting and Facebook.
The play revolves around the title character and Andre Sills brings out all the complexities, ambitions, weaknesses, determination and human frailty that encompasses all of us. Somehow he manages to take the audience from affection & respect to antipathy for his character. This is a tour-de-force portrayal.
Tom McManus is his supportive buddy. Not only does he bear a facial resemblance to actor Ray Liotta, but has the mannerisms Liotta displays on ‘Shades of Blue’. He’s sincere, strong-willed, yet with a flexibility where his pal’s benefit is concerned. Against Coriolanus are Tribunes (senators) Tom Rooney and Stephen Ouimette who give off the auras of a Ben Sanders or John McCain. Both give strong portrayals especially when faced with changing & unexpected consequences.
The most powerful and impacting role is that of Coriolanus’ mother – ‘Volumnia’. Lucy Peacock is dynamite. She’s scary as hell, but seems to have a sincere affection accompanying her ambition for her son. Her entreaties to Coriolanus near play’s end had my neck hairs on edge.
Full measure support is contributed by Graham Abbey’s Volscian General & especially Alexis Gordon as the wife of the star. But it has to be the creative special effects and staging that will no doubt stay in the audience’s memory. It helps if one is previously familiar with the play, but even novices will eventually get hooked by the on-stage progress.
CORIOLANUS is at the Avon Theatre