Review: CORIOLANUS (from Stratford)

by Lynn on September 10, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Robert Lepage

Set design by Robert Lepage

Creative director and designer, (huh??) Steve Blanchet

Costumes designed by Mara Gottier

Lighting by Laurent Routhier

Composed and sound by Antoine Bédard

Images designed by Pedro Pires

Cast: Graham Abbey

Wayne Best

David Collins

Martha Farrell

Oliver Gamble

Farhang Ghajar

Alexis Gordon

Tom McCamus

Eli McCready-Branch

Nick Nahwegahbow

Stephen Ouimette

Lucy Peacock

Tom Rooney

André Sills

E.B. Smith

Johnathan Sousa

Emilio Vieira

Brigit Wilson

Visually striking but why am I in a theatre watching a film?

The Story. Coriolanus is a successful general who won many battles for the people of Rome. He is urged to go into politics and become Consul of Rome but just hated the game of having to play up to the fickle population, But his strong mother, Volumnia urges him to do it and he does to a point.

Then he turns on his people when they become too demanding, goes over to his enemy’s side, the Volscians lead by Aufidius  and proposes that they both attack Rome. Then things get messy.

The Production. The big deal about this production is that it is directed by Robert Lepage. His present difficulties aside of being culturally blinkered—by not casting indigenous actors for an upcoming show on the history of Indigenous people in Canada, Robert Lepage is a rock star of a director. He has a true international reputation as a daring visionary as a director.  He has a visual sense that creates images that are arresting and mesmerizing. He’s really big on using technology, such as filmed/videoed sequences, animation, images on images.  His story-telling has a sweep. And Shakespeare’s Coriolanus certainly has sweep.  It’s a story that deals with wars against opposing factions, a fickle population, backstabbing politicians, people angling for power and a pushy mother. It is loaded with the stuff of drama. Coupled with Lepage’s arresting images it definitely grabs the audience.

As the audience files in there is a large bust of Coriolanus centre stage. The eyes are closed and the background seems to shimmer.  As I look at that bust and note that this might be an animation of sorts, I know that when the show starts those eyes will open and an inanimate bust of the man will speak and be animated in his speeches. And lo and behold it’s true.

The bust comes to life when the lights go up on the stage and Coriolanus delivers his thoughts. André Sills plays Coriolanus with vigour, edge, impatience and stature. You can see him trying to contain his anger as he tries to curry favour to become Consul.

When he goes over to the other side, Lepage has Coriolanus get into a sports car on stage and take off at high speed. The speed is suggested when the background whizzes by: from urban to rural, through a dark forest (for a second there I thought of Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Show driving through a similar dark forest, the car breaks down and they seek help in the spooky castle of Dr. Frank N Furter. I know I didn’t blunder into the wrong production because the good Dr. Frank N Furter is up there in my row, disguised as Dan Chameroy), to another town—and comes to stop outside Aufidius’ headquarters.

Lighting designer, Laurent Routhier,  creates a lighting effect on the wheels of the car that give the impression the tires are spinning at break-neck speed and when the car slows down the lighting on the hubcap also slows and we can see the revolve clearly. That’s the kind of dazzling mind Robert Lepage has and the kind of artistry lighting designer Laurent Routhier has as well.  That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

There are speeches delivered between characters as if they are in a radio studio doing an interview. There is a scene between guard who are texting each other with the text illuminated on the set for us to make out their humour, banter and use of emojis. Often there are scenes in bars—lots of politicians doing lots of drinking here. It’s all very him.

All this hipness and technology is thought to appeal to a young, tech-savvy audience. Some wags have called it a production for the ages. Hmmm.

The stage seems raised, with the action set in a frame. Scenes begin and end with the walls from the sides closing in and walls from the ceiling lowering and from the floor rising up to meet in the middle.  The effect is like watching the end of a scene in a film. I thought that odd. Why am I watching a film when I’m in a theatre watching a play? Is this how someone thinks you have to engage a young audience? I don’t think so. Just make them use their imaginations as with that car and you will grab them.

The acting is fine, certainly with André Sills’ bold performance (as mentioned above). Lucy Peacock plays Volumnia with a tight smile as she tries to control her impatience with her stubborn son.  At times her voice can sound shrill with a quiver because of effort. That’s no necessary. Peacock can be steely in her resolve as Volumnia and that makes the character formidable.  Volumnia is smart, tenacious and wily as played by Peacock, but she should just relax the voice.

As Aufidius, Graham Abbey is strapping and watchful. It’s an interesting touch that Aufidius might have  deeper feelings towards Coriolanus than just those of  enemies.

Tom McCamus plays Menenius Agrippa, a friend to Coriolanus, as a world weary politician who always seems to be in a bar. Very telling that.

The result here is that while the acting is fine, it looks like all the action happens downstage in that filmic frame, without variation. As a result, the whole feel of this production is flat, that we are at a remove from the action.

Comment. I can appreciate Robert Lepage’s vision in making this production so modern—filmic, moments of television and radio; setting scenes of intrigue in bars, emojis. But I think the point of suggesting this is a film when it’s done in a theatre, defeats the purpose and doesn’t serve the play.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened:  June 23, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours, approx.



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