BWW Review: CORIOLANUS, Crucible, Sheffield
The annual big-scale Shakespeare play has long been a tradition of the Crucible Theatre, but whilst recent years have focused more on big crowd-pleasers (including Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream), this year Artistic Director Robert Hastie has turned his attention to the slightly less well-known Coriolanus, the story of a Roman military leader who seems destined for Consul until his pride and disdain for the people become a huge PR problem...
Tom Bateman makes for a charismatic and athletic Coriolanus, and the character is softened a little with tender scenes with his wife Virgilia (Hermon Berhane) acted out purely in sign language. Stella Gonet is a formidable presence as his mother Volumnia and Malcolm Sinclair is skin-crawlingly good as Menenius. They are surrounded by a strong (and diverse) cast who take on the roles of soldiers, advisors, tribunes and members of the public.
This adaptation is at its best when showing how persuasive powerful rhetoric and appeals to sentiment can be, as we see the crowd's opinions swayed repeatedly when they're offered different causes for, and potential solutions to, the suffering they find themselves living through. It is perhaps less successful in explaining why Coriolanus feels such disdain for the public - although this is a criticism that could be levied at Shakespeare as much as this production!
Some of the finer details of the plot and machinations are also a little hard to follow at the start (especially as some actors play several roles) - it's worth grabbing a copy of the programme for a good scene-by-scene primer if you're unfamiliar with the play. Once the key dynamics and roles are established, however, the storyline falls into place.
The battle scenes look impressive, and Lucy Carter's lighting design works well throughout. In Ben Stones' set, the Crucible has had a makeover, turning it into the Roman senate. The action fills the whole theatre in many scenes, with 17 members of Sheffield People's Theatre added to the 14-strong professional cast to amplify the sense of a crowd.
Overall, this is a powerful and vibrant version of the work that immerses us in the action and reminds us that there are riches and relevance even in the less well-known Shakespeare plays.
Coriolanus is at the Crucible Theatre until 28 March