A Coriolanus Experience

Today I had the privilege of seeing National Theatre Live’s broadcast of the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus

I will admit that the reason I even know about this Coriolanus production and NT Live’s broadcast of it is because I am a Tom Hiddleston fan. I recently stumbled into the little world, or actually, lately, not so little world, of the Hiddleston fandom. My sister has been enjoying calling me by the commonly accepted name, which I have not fully embraced, but which certainly applies, Hiddlestoner.

Tom, perhaps best known as Loki in the Thor movies and Avengers movie, stars in Coriolanus and we Hiddleston fans have been following his preparation for and participation in the production which ended February 13th.

Many fans were fortunate enough to make the journey to London to see the play in person in the small but lovely theatre, The Donmar Warehouse. I read all the details of their experiences and saw all the wonderful reviews the cast and everyone involved were receiving. I wanted very much to see it myself.

Fortunately, there was this gift of the NT Live broadcast. I did not actually get to see the truly live version, which was broadcast January 30th, but feel grateful to have had the chance to see a replay. When I heard about it, I quickly bought tickets and have been anxiously counting down the days to today when I could see it for myself.

I am not any sort of expert able to comment on the quality of the acting, though even to a casual observer like myself, the entire cast seemed to shine. Of course, I was impressed, as ever, with Tom’s talent, but every person on that stage owned my attention. Deborah Findlay as Volumnia was impressive and powerful. Mark Gatiss, who I also love from his work on Sherlock, was funny and smart and his last scene with Coriolanus was the beginning of the end of me. Hadley Fraser was another favorite for me, so much so that I will have to seek out more work of his to enjoy. And then Tom, of course Tom, but more on that later.

I was never the theatre geek like my sister, so I cannot tell you much about the excellence of the staging although I can tell you I was impressed with how such a remarkably small space felt like so much more. I saw the space in pictures before seeing it today and I saw it in the wonderful little short film they did on the Donmar and the production before the show began. I wondered how in the world they would make that space work for battles and all the scenes I knew were coming. I couldn’t say how they managed it but that small stage became a battle zone and the Capitol, all with minimal changes to the stage. It was impressive.

Also, I have never been a Shakespeare fan, not really, sorry Tom, it feels almost a blasphemous thing to say as a Hiddleston fan. I was an English major who avoided Shakespeare like the plague as much as possible while still managing to receive a degree. The language was always too foreign to me. I can never fully get past the language, even now when watching a really great performance like this one. I can say, though, that even as far from a Shakespeare scholar as I would admit to being, this was a beautiful performance of this play. It was spare, and not just in space. It was funny, much funnier than I expected. It pulled me in and did not let me go until well after I had left the theater.

I can’t say I necessarily enjoyed it though, but let me explain. The play is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies and it will break your heart. Repeatedly. Mark Gatiss’s Menenius and Coriolanus’s last scene together got me first. Gatiss was so masterful and that scene hurt. Then they bring on Volumnia and the wife and child next and that scene is so emotionally charged and powerful. Tom’s tears, oh, they will wreck you.

The play evoked many emotions though, one of which, for me, was maybe not necessarily intended, but felt nonetheless. Anger. I know the relationship is representative of a different time and a different world, but as a mother of three sons I couldn’t bear what Volumnia did to her son. She certainly influenced the man he became and controlled him in many ways and it ultimately helped lead to his destruction. And I hated her for it.

Now I’ve heard it said, and could certainly agree, that Tom seems born to do Shakespeare. He was commanding as the strong and arrogant and powerful Coriolanus. I felt his anger and his pain and hung on his words and not just because I am a (ahem) Hiddlestoner. I was emotionally exhausted by the time it was over and I can only imagine he would have to be. When it was over I was in an odd contemplative mood. I chatted briefly with my sister who I went to see it with then made my 40 minute drive home in silence. It felt wrong to put on the radio and listen to some silly song. I had to spend some time just thinking it all over. Taking it all in. Doing my best to process it.

Did I love the play? No, not really, because it hurt. But did it do its job? Oh, yes. It took me out of my world and into another. It made me feel and think and wonder.

So, would I recommend you go see it if you have the opportunity?


Unequivocally, yes.

And I feel lucky to have experienced it.