National Theatre Live: Coriolanus

For those who couldn’t get down to London to watch the brilliant Tom Hiddleston boast a magnificent Coriolanus at the National Theatre, the Fringe is hosting the next best thing here in Edinburgh. Assembly Rooms is showing the live performance of the play on the big screen, bringing Shakespeare’s epic, Roman tragedy up here for a much more reasonable price.

Tom Hiddleston switches between violent anger and political stubbornness, perfectly portraying the complexity of Coriolanus

As you would expect from the National Theatre, a lot of time and money has been poured into this production, obvious firstly from the ingenious staging by the artistic director Josie Rourke. In a testament to Brechtian techniques, the actors never truly leave the stage, instead just stepping off to the side when not in character. A screen is utilised on the back wall to place us in the heart of Rome by projecting the thoughts of the citizens as graffiti. Hard hitting music is played over the tensest scenes as well heightens the rage of the seething crowds of Rome’s citizens.

The initial battle scenes at Corioli are cleverly depicted using just chairs, ladders and brilliant lightning effects. When the arrogant hero eventually comes home victorious he is forced to stand for Consul. But after mockingly tearing the citizens’ red ballot slips from their hands, they turn against him and intend to punish him for his conceitedness and tyrannical nature.

The wild gestures and emotional outbreaks that belong in the theatre are perfect here for erasing some of the confusion in a highly-wrought script. Even those that don’t know the play well can get a basic understanding of the plot through the exquisite acting seen here.

The high production price is apparent with this acting too. Tom Hiddleston switches between violent anger and political stubbornness, perfectly portraying the complexity of Coriolanus. The title character’s manipulative mother, played by Deborah Findlay, also gives an excellent performance in managing to both worship her son and be infuriated by his inflexibility.

Unfortunately, the beauty and magnificence of this play was somewhat lost by the fact that, here at the Fringe, the production was shown on a cinema screen. This inevitably brought the audience back to the world of the big screen instead of being immersed in the theatre. The audience was forced to see what the cameras wanted to see, often focusing on close ups of the actors and losing the feel of being surrounding by the stage. Although this didn’t necessarily ruin the experience, it did detract a lot from the captivating feel a theatre can give - especially given the festival around it.

That said, the experience of watching such a spectacular performance of this epic Shakespeare play is not one to be missed. Though the emergence of theatre was somewhat lost to the zooming camera shots and close ups of actors’ faces, getting the opportunity to see this play on the big screen I’m sure gives you chances to spot details that would otherwise have been looked over. This is the perfect chance to satisfy the true Shakespeare fan in anyone.

Reviews by Megan Atkins

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The Blurb

Cinema screening of live performance. Shakespeare's searing tragedy of political manipulation and revenge, Coriolanus features an Evening Standard award-winning performance from Tom Hiddleston in the title role, directed by the Donmar's Artistic Director Josie Rourke. When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender: Coriolanus. But he has enemies at home too. Famine threatens the city, the citizens' hunger swells to an appetite for change, and on returning from the field Coriolanus must confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people.