Coriolanus

William Shakespeare
RSC at the Old Vic
(2003)

This is one of those RSC productions that really makes one appreciate a lesser Shakespeare play. The samurai setting with its colourful costumes may be unusual, but it leads to many memorable images and proves that director, David Farr, has a really strong visual sense. This is exemplified by the unforgettable sight of the blood-soaked hero that graces poster and programme.

The combination of director, designer (Ti Green) and lead (Greg Hicks) with good teams on- and back-stage make for an exciting evening. This production could win awards by the end of the year and, as well as the afore-mentioned trio, lighting designer Hartley T.A. Kemp repeatedly creates the right atmosphere with colour, shading and unusual angles.

Caius Martius is not a pleasant man and has little patience for diplomacy. Like Caesar he is "Too noble for the world". Indeed, immediately after the interval when he has lost his position and been banished, Farr portrays him as a Christ-like figure.

In a consistently excellent performance, Greg Hicks imbues him with real humanity and hidden depths as this outsider fights the world. He may be a great warrior but in a play that turns full circle, he finds himself hated not only by his countrymen but also the enemy to whom he defected. He is never keen to be understood and even his greatest political supporters, the consul (David Killick) and Richard Cordery's sycophantic Menenius eventually cannot save him.

His battles are fought on many fronts, with the tribunes of Rome played by Tom Mannion and Simon Coates, with the plebeians, with his own mother (Alison Fiske), and not least with his enemy and alter ego, the Volscian warrior Aufidius (Chuk Iwuji). It could be argued that the person who best understands this contrary man is the last-named.

While some of the speeches and politicking may drag a little, the set pieces always look beautiful and Terry King's fight scenes are amongst the best in his long career. In particular, at one stage he choreographs a thrilling battle with a dozen men exchanging blows simultaneously.

Ultimately, the performance of Greg Hicks, who is now a fine classical actor, will be remembered for its anger, nobility and occasional flashes of wit. He has done well at the Old Vic down the years and Coriolanus ranks as a highlight there, comparing with his Lucky in Sir Peter Hall's Waiting for Godot.

See Steve Orme's review of this production at the Swan, Stratford-on-Avon

Reviewer: Philip Fisher