Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse, 27 December 2013
A bare brick wall bore traces of previously erased graffiti. Plastic chairs stood in a line at its base and a ladder rose from just right of centre stage up into the flies. The stage itself was bare apart from a gully into which debris was occasionally swept.
At the start of the performance most of the cast went to sit on their chairs while Young Martius (Rudi Goodman) painted a large red square onto the stage floor guided by beams of light that showed him where to colour (1.1). This square represented a generic room that was employed in several sequences and whose outline was lit again when in use. A gap was left on the stage left side of the room through which characters entered and exited.
The text was severely cut so that the running time was 2h30m with a 15m interval. The first half lasted 90 minutes and the second well under an hour.
Two citizens (Mark Stanley and Dwane Walcott) painted the huge words ANNONA (grain) and PLEBIS (the people) on to the wall. Other slogans were projected onto it. The 1st Citizen’s (Rochenda Sandall) opening words “Before we proceed any further” became a reference to the graffitiing. She was the most aggressive and confrontational of the three and carried a small hand axe which she intermittently gestured with as if ready to use, which contrasted with the other’s more passive, artistic resistance.
Menenius (Mark Gatiss) rose and came forward when he was mentioned. His reference to “bats and clubs” was a mild euphemism for the hand axe carried by the 1st Citizen.
His costume, like that of the rest of the cast, was halfway between Roman and modern. He wore a long, slightly shabby coat which made him look more like a poet than a patrician. This suited his florid style of speech. He spoke quietly but confidently about the munificence of the patricians in his “pretty tale”, the belly metaphor.
The patrician flipped up his waistcoat to show his shirt to “make the belly smile”. He made fun of the 2nd Citizen with his great toe joke, pointing at his own outstretched toe on the punch line “thou goest foremost”.
Menenius’ extended explanation was cut short by Martius (Tom Hiddleston) bursting in. After a brief “Thanks” he began his verbal assault on the citizens. This was the action of a messenger and not a man in command. Despite seizing a length of pipe from one of them, it appeared that he had rushed to appear at their bidding rather than confronting them from the security of his own position. He became a supplicant to them.
The first impression of Hiddleston’s Coriolanus was that he was simply an angry young man. This was possibly age-appropriate for the historical character, but held little more appeal.
The tribunes, sat on the stage left end chairs, stood when their “grant” was mentioned. The extent to which Coriolanus disapproved of them would become apparent later.
News came of the Volscian invasion and Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) rose from his chair allowing us to identify the man whom Coriolanus described as the “lion” he was “proud to hunt”. Coriolanus jokingly accused Titus Lartius (Alfred Enoch) of being stiff, upon which they slapped each other playfully.
Sicinia (Helen Schlesinger) and Brutus (Elliot Levy) stood up from their chairs in spotlight and complained about Martius’ pride. Their conspiratorial talk in a corner highlighted their relative weakness and outsider status within Roman politics.
The Volscians had Yorkshire accents, which served to distinguish them from the southern English Romans, but this demarcation was not strictly necessary (1.2). The Volscian senate was indicated by the presence of a simple lectern, from which they spoke to the audience as if addressing the assembly, with a hint that it held the microphone through which it was necessary to speak.
The letter informing them that the Roman army was on its way proved that they were being spied on. Aufidius was as unconvincing a warrior as Martius. The Volscians decided to proceed with their attack, instructing Aufidius to return to Corioli if the Romans laid siege to it.
Young Martius played with his sword as Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) and Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) brought forward two chairs on which they sat to sew a large flag (1.3). This was war work, not dainty domestic sewing, and hinted at Volumnia’s martial enthusiasm for her son’s career.
Virgilia suppressed tears that showed she was upset at husband’s absence. Her sniffling became the reason that Volumnia asked her to be “in a more comfortable sort”. The Gentlewoman (Rochenda Sandall again) announced the arrival of Valeria (Jacqueline Boatswain). Virglia wanted to leave but Volumnia insisted that she stay and rose to act out Martius stamping on his enemies: an excellent portrayal of her fervour and pride. Virgilia’s horror at Volumnia’s description of bloodshed was developed further to show by her unspoken reactions how uncomfortable she was within this militaristic family.
They sat and sewed again. Valeria was shown in. She, like the Gentlewoman, observed the doorway in the painted, lit wall of the room. As she approached Virgilia to comment on the sewing, Virgilia turned her face away to hide that she had recently been crying, with the implication that the intensity and duration of her crying had made it impossible to conceal.
She concentrated on her sewing, but looked up in horror as Valeria described how she had seen Young Martius play with and then tear up a butterfly. She was dumbstruck at this cruelty, but such was her submission to this martial environment that her objection came only in her curt remark “A crack, madam”.
Virgilia shot up and paid attention when she heard that Valeria had news of her husband. Virgilia would not go with Valeria but shouted after her as she left the room by its ‘door’.
The stage was cleared and chairs were dragged forward to make a trench in which the Roman army crouched low on the ground, facing the back wall representing Corioli (1.4).
The text was cut so that the scene began with Martius getting the army ready, exhorting “Now put your shields before your hearts and fight”. They charged forward and up rungs on the wall which had ladders projected on to it. Martius ascended the real ladder. Earth came tumbling down as well as fireworks.
The Romans fell back, climbing down the short distance they had ascended the wall. Martius also descended to castigate them before returning to his ladder. Continuing upwards, he disappeared into the flies, marking his entry into Corioli.
Martius then re-entered covered in blood.
The sequence at the start of 1.5 with the looters was cut so that the action became continuous. Martius rallied his men, dismissing his injuries by proclaiming that the “drop of blood is rather physical”.
Cominius (Peter De Jersey) greeted Martius, who wished to be sent against Aufidius (1.6). This agreed, Martius encouraged the troops drawing attention to “this painting”: the blood covering him. He rapped his sword hilt on the ground, a gesture the others copied as they became enthused by his rhetoric. He raised his sword above his head at “O, me alone! Make you a sword of me?” which he spoke quietly as a kind of invocation or prayer
The brief scene 1.7 was cut, leading straight into confrontation between Aufidius and Martius in 1.8. The pair ran at each other and touched swords together first before Martius declared “I’ll fight with none but thee.” They took up positions and then fought, both eventually losing their swords, punching and grappling until Martius got the advantage. He squatted over the prone Aufidius with his hand round his throat choking him and seemed to be relishing the process.
When it looked as if Aufidius was about to die, one his men rushed to Martius’s side and put a sword at his neck. Three others came forward alternately from either side so that eventually a Roman threatened a Volscian, who threatened the Roman who threatened Aufidius’ backer. In this standoff, Aufidius escaped but not without castigating his men for their “condemned seconds”. Martius offered Aufidius his sword back, but then withdrew it and kept the weapon as a prize from the encounter.
Martius appeared after the battle with his arm in a sling as the soldiers chanted “Martius” (1.9). He stood on a chair at one end of a straggle of chairs, while Cominius climbed onto another chair some distance away to praise his deeds and offer him a garland. As he was being proclaimed “Coriolanus”, he moved to a line of four chairs, three of which were then removed to leave him standing alone as the army chanted his new name.
Later, as he crouched near the ground to rest, he forgot the name of man he wanted to have saved.
At the end of the sequence, he took his shirt off, a painful process because of the wounds underneath, and showered in stream of water, which exacerbated the pain. He was injured on his shoulder and left arm as described later by Volumnia. Once over the initial shock he washed his hair and shook it sending out sprays of blood. As he did so, the sound of swords being sharpened played subtly over the top.
The blood was washed away into a gully by a sweeper.
Aufidius complained bitterly about the Volscian defeat, the imposed treaty, and his desire to beat Martius. One puddle of Coriolanus’ bloody water remained in which Aufidius bathed his hands when saying he wanted to “wash my fierce hand in’s heart”. When he was finished with it, he gestured at the sweeper to continue cleaning.
Menenius sat some distance away from the two tribunes who were centre stage seated next to each other (2.1). They fell into conversation about Martius and Menenius was quietly disparaging of them. They accused Martius of pride but he wished they could “turn your eyes towards the nape of your necks” to see their own pride. He became increasingly angry at them, criticising their ambition.
The three women entered, brandishing their letters telling of Martius’ return and shared the glad news with Menenius who embraced them.
But further tension was seen between Volumnia and Virgilia. Menenius pointed out that Martius was “wont to come home wounded”, at which Virgilia repeatedly cried “no”, while Volumnia insisted that her son was indeed wounded and thanked the gods for it. Virgilia cast Volumnia a look of shocked disgust that she should wish Martius to be injured. This once again showed the contrast in their values and how Virgilia did not fit in.
Volumnia and Menenius’ discussion of the history of Martius’ injuries, during which he joyously completed her sentences, was interrupted by the sound of Martius’ triumphant approach. Volumnia stood centre stage to pronounce the ominous “doth lie… men die” as rose petals fell from the flies.
Coriolanus entered in his garland to great acclaim. He was formally welcomed and faced the audience until Cominius pointed out “Look, sir, your mother” at which he turned embarrassed to find Volumnia behind him.
She congratulated him and with her final words “But O, thy wife” disparagingly introduced Virgilia who hugged her husband as he remarked on her crying. This textual reference to her crying linked back to her first tearful appearance.
They set off for the Capitol, leaving Brutus and Sicinia sitting in spotlight at the side. They were worried about losing power if Coriolanus became consul, but took comfort that his arrogance towards the people might prove his undoing. They left for Capitol as well.
The initial sequence with the officers at the start of 2.2 was cut, so the action continued with the senators. The chairs were rearranged and brought forward. They sat in a line behind the central lectern with Coriolanus standing between them. The tribunes were on chairs at the end of the line again.
The 1st Senator’s slightly condescending acknowledgement of the “Masters o’th’ people” produced two responses: Coriolanus, who disapproved of their influence, snapped his fingers and gestured at them to sit down as they rose to speak from the lectern; the tribunes in turn were curt and sarcastic, expressing their muted animosity towards Martius’ promotion.
The fact that the tribunes advanced to the lectern, speaking from which became a marker of authority, provided an initial point of physical conflict between them and Martius that would later become more pronounced.
Coriolanus went to the back and walked up and down behind the line of chairs while he was lauded. During Cominius’ long paean, the others, especially Titus Lartius, slapped their papers in approval, whereas the tribunes were notable by their withdrawn silence. Sicinia looked down at her pad and made furious notes as she was in the habit of doing during these proceedings.
Coriolanus was called back in. The Officer’s line “He doth appear” was given to Brutus as a sarcastic aside. He was offered the consulship if he would speak to the people in the market. The gown of humility was shown to him from the stage right walkway. But he did not want to go through with the ceremony.
Tribunes were again left behind to complain.
The citizens gathered in the market place and were handed red ballots by the tribunes which the people would offer as their “voices” (2.3).
Coriolanus entered in his gown. He begged their voices but in a way that involved gesturing at them, snapping his fingers and snatching the red papers from their hands, all of which was consistent with someone who considered himself there because of “mine own desert”.
He became sarcastic and mocked his own servility, the comedy of which prompted some tittering in the audience.
To mark his general acceptance by the populace he walked along the long line of the cast seated at the back, taking red ballots from their hands. He handed the pile of papers to the tribunes at the end of the line, who then rose.
Menenius was satisfied that he had completed the task and Coriolanus left for the Senate.
Brutus and Sicinia got to work convincing the people to change their minds. Once they believed they had been duped, they retrieved their ballots from the box and began tearing them up.
Coriolanus, Titus Lartius and Cominius were discussing the uneasy standoff between Rome and Antium (3.1).
Into the middle of this burst the tribunes and emptied a box of torn, rejected ballots over him. Coriolanus was insulted and held a handful of shredded papers to ask “Have I had children’s voices?”
The argument with the tribunes continued once they had returned to their seats. Sicinia looked up into the galleries to predict portentously that “It is a mind that shall remain a poison where it is, not poison any further”. Coriolanus became quietly furious at “her absolute shall”.
He continued to berate Sicinia, walking behind her as she cast her eyes downward and scribbled yet more furious notes.
Coriolanus justified his position and the absolute authority of the patricians, mocking the common people’s opinion by imitating their accent. He derided the “double worship” of allowing the tribunes authority so that “nothing is done to purpose”.
Brutus came to the lectern and accused him of treason. This produced a physical confrontation between him and Coriolanus in which they scuffled after which Coriolanus stood aside gesturing at Brutus to come and have a go if he was hard enough.
In the commotion Sicinia told the people that they risked losing their liberties, insisting “What is the city but the people?” She became more determined, calling for Coriolanus to be pushed from the Tarpeian rock.
Coriolanus now totally lost his temper, kicked over the lectern and drew his sword at them. They took shelter, with Brutus scaling the first few rungs of the ladder, shielding behind it to point accusingly at Coriolanus before describing him (using Sicinius’ lines) as “this viper that would depopulate the city, and be every man himself”.
Menenius tried to assuage the tribunes and citizens, describing Coriolanus as a diseased limb to be cured not cut off, and said he would bring him to the market place again.
Set within the confines of the red box room, Coriolanus’ first words “I muse my mother…” were spoken to Virgilia as she kissed him. She then departed to stand outside as Volumnia tried to convince her son to play politics (3.2).
Virgilia paced up and down outside listening and fretting. She looked astounded when Volumnia claimed “I am in this your wife…”. Virgilia returned later to kiss him again.
Her exclusion from this conversation underscored her irrelevance and outsider status. It also added to the claustrophobic atmosphere as Volumnia, Menenius and Cominius crowded within the small space of the room with Coriolanus. But it made her more present as a character and allowed us to see her reaction to words that normally she would not overhear.
At the end, when he had agreed to return to the market, Coriolanus spoke sarcastically about doing things “mildly”, repeating the word in mockery. To be on the safe side, Cominius took Coriolanus’ sword from him to prevent a repeat of his previous aggression.
Brutus painted a small black square on the stage to mark out the spot in the market place on which Coriolanus was to be confined during his contrite reappearance (3.3). Brutus and Sicinia were so happy that their plan had worked so far that they embraced and kissed as they finalised their scheme to secure Coriolanus’ downfall by stoking his anger.
Coriolanus returned, stepped inside the black box and was challenged by the tribunes. He became enraged by their accusation of treachery.
Menenius and Cominius observed the unfolding situation with keen interest, leaning in to whisper comments to each other and then occasionally calling on Coriolanus to show moderation. The staging emphasised that their individual contributions were the product of their collusion.
Citizens stood on both walkways calling for him to be sent to the rock. Coriolanus seized on Brutus’ mention of word “service”, infuriated at its use by an upstart civilian.
Whipped up by Sicinia, the people demanded Coriolanus’ execution, crying “It shall be so”. The cacophony was accompanied by multiple projections of the word “traitor” and the phrase “it shall be so” being sequentially added to the back wall.
Coriolanus lashed out at the “common cry of curs” telling them “I banish you”, throwing his garland back at them. He was spotlit centre stage to pronounce “There is a world elsewhere” shadowed by Volumnia, who sat behind him, cried and then came forward for 4.1.
Coriolanus bade farewell to his family by first commiserating with a very distraught Volumnia who had come forward at the end of 3.3 (4.1). Cominius returned the sword he had previously confiscated from Coriolanus, in a gesture of comradely solidarity with his fellow soldier.
The first half ended as Coriolanus returned centre stage to be pelted with rotten tomatoes by citizens shouting “It shall be so!”
At the start of the second half, a shadowy figure in ragged clothes huddled by the back wall as the tribunes met with Volumnia and Virgilia. The women were furious with them. Volumnia was haughty and disdainful, but was met with confident sarcasm from Sicinia, while Virgilia ran at them in fury (4.2).
Volumnia shoved away Menenius’ comforting hand as he invited her to dinner, insisting bitterly “anger’s my meat: I sup upon myself”. She composed herself and addressed Virgilia, telling her to “leave this faint puling”. She adjusted Virgilia’s hair and smartened her up, but only as an aid to stiffening her resolve.
By encouraging her daughter-in-law to be “Juno-like”, Volumnia was drawing comfort from the prospect of making Virgilia more like her. This change from her earlier disdain for Virgilia marked the beginning of a deeper reconciliation that would culminate in their mutual support in their final scene.
Scene 4.3 was cut. Coriolanus disguised in his rags, slumped at the back of the stage, rose up and asked the way to Aufidius’ house (4.4). He tried to gain entry but was turned back by one of the female servants (Rochenda Sandall again) who stood toe-to-toe and comically nose-to-nose with Coriolanus in an attempt to intimidate him into leaving (4.5). He brushed her aside contemptuously, telling her to “batten on cold bits”.
Aufidius caught up with him and Coriolanus initially turned away, unsure as to whether to reveal himself. But he turned to face Aufidius and took off his hood. Aufidius still did not recognise him and asked his name several times.
Coriolanus spoke his name, causing the other Volscians to start with fear at being in the presence of their arch enemy. During Coriolanus’ long explanation of how he had arrived there, one of Aufidius’ men slowly drew his dagger and crept up very slowly behind Coriolanus. A further note of tension was introduced as Coriolanus took a step backwards, forcing the stealthy killer to retreat as well, with the ever-present possibility that he might be detected. Coriolanus sank to his knees and the killer positioned his blade just above Coriolanus’ back. He fixed Aufidius with his gaze, indicating that he had only to give the word and the blade would be thrust between his foe’s shoulder blades.
Coriolanus offered up his throat for him to cut. Aufidius moved behind the kneeling Coriolanus and took the blade from his comrade and held it near to Coriolanus’ throat.
Aufidius paused for a while before exclaiming “O Martius, Martius” and declared his friendship. But Coriolanus was still nervously anticipating the fatal blow so that when Aufidius briskly made a sudden cutting movement without making actual contact, Coriolanus momentarily mistook this for the coup de grace and collapsed forward in panic. He recovered once he felt that his throat was still intact.
Aufidius knelt down in front of Coriolanus, held him in his arms and then kissed him on the lips. But he immediately stood up and with slight abashment explained “Know thou first, I loved the maid I married” to audience titters. This mirth was reignited when Aufidius grasped him once more, this time standing up, and spoke of how he had “nightly since dreamt of encounters” between them.
Aufidius offered him joint leadership and some Volscian armour was given to him. The comedy serving men sequence was cut, but humour was introduced at the end of the scene. Once the main players had exited, the other Volscians looked at each other in open-mouthed amazement at Aufidius’ unexpected embracement of his former enemy.
Back in Rome, Sicinia and Brutus were very happy. The couple sat close together, Brutus with his arm round Sicinia’s shoulder, as they exuded smug self-congratulation at getting Coriolanus banished (4.6).
Confident that they now had the upper hand, they took no heed of Menenius’ upset at Coriolanus’ departure. Some citizens passed by and thanked the tribunes, presenting them with a bowl of grapes.
However, their calm was short-lived. A messenger (not identified as an Aedile) brought news of a report of a Volscian invasion. The tribunes wanted the “rumourer” whipped, but Menenius realised that the rumour was probably true.
Another messenger reported that Coriolanus had joined with Aufidius. The tribunes dismissed this as yet more idle talk and Menenius agreed that this was “unlikely”. But a second messenger called him to the Senate, confirming the truth of it.
Cominius stormed in and joined with Menenius in castigating the static seated tribunes, whose fixed position highlighted their fear and indecision. They were surrounded, with a military man on one side and an intellectual on the other. Criticism from these divergent types brought out the totality of the opposition to them.
The citizens were now abashed and denied that they had ever meant to banish Coriolanus. Others were fearful of how to placate him. The Tribunes could only tell them not to be afraid, but once they were left alone, Brutus’ remark “I do not like this news” as he sat still holding the grapes, drew laughter from audience for its comical redundancy.
Aufidius and his Lieutenant sat and mithered about Coriolanus’ increasing popularity (4.7). Speaking of how fire drives out fire and one nail another, he vowed menacingly that “When, Caius, Rome is thine, Thou art poor’st of all; then shortly art thou mine”.
Cominius returned from his failed meeting with Coriolanus and kicked over a chair before crouching disconsolate at the back of the stage (5.1). The position and posture he adopted were eerily similar to that Coriolanus had been in when lurking on stage at the start of the second half.
Menenius initially refused to petition Coriolanus because the general had met with failure. But Sicinia’s pleading, together with his own conviction that Coriolanus would be more malleable after dinner, persuaded him to try.
Cominius described how Coriolanus “does sit in gold, his eye red as ‘twould burn Rome” while Coriolanus went to his chair.
Menenius arrived at the Volscian camp and was intercepted by two guards (5.2). His high-handed “do you know who I am?” approach resulted in rebuff.
Coriolanus and Aufidius, overhearing the commotion, came to see what was happening. Menenius proudly and disdainfully promised the “jack guardant” that he was in trouble for keeping him out.
Menenius appeared to let slip a great secret. His phrasing of “my son Coriolanus” cut short the word “son” before continuing with “Coriolanus” as if inadvertently hinting at his paternity.
He approached Coriolanus and knelt to weep tears onto his gloved hand. He asked pardon for Rome, requesting that after making peace any remnant of Coriolanus’ anger be directed at the “varlet” who had “denied my access to thee”.
Without saying anything, Coriolanus wagged his finger disapprovingly at the guard, giving Menenius the impression that he was about to fulfil his wish. The wagging continued and became more mocking until Coriolanus laughed, making plain that his gesture was entirely playful. He turned brusquely to Menenius and very softly ordered him “Away”.
Coriolanus vowed that he was a stranger even to his family and that he had only compassion for the Volscians. He gave Menenius a letter which the despondent man briefly read and then dropped to the ground on exiting. The guards made fun of Menenius for having predicted they would get into trouble.
His ominous “He that hath a will to die by himself fears it not from another” became a real premonition of his suicide, because after his exit from this scene the cuts to the remainder of text meant he was never seen again. This was reminiscent of the character’s absence from the final Roman scenes in the Ralph Fiennes film.
Coriolanus picked up the discarded letter and passed it to Aufidius, demonstrating that there were no secrets between them. With continuous action, Coriolanus and Aufidius discussed laying siege to Rome the next day (5.3). Coriolanus ironically vowed that he would not listen to any more suits from “state nor private friends”.
The women processed onstage: first Virgilia, then Volumnia holding Young Martius’ hand and finally Valeria. They walked along stage front and then round behind to stand upstage right. Coriolanus watched and commented.
Virgilia slowly curtsied before his empty chair with a fixed beatific smile on her face, which indicated that somehow Coriolanus was speaking to us from outside the reality of their arrival and we were seeing the event through his shocked eyes. Volumnia and Young Martius bowed their heads.
Coriolanus returned to sit in his chair centre stage at which point he entered into the field of Virgilia’s gaze. She came alive, the staged version of the sequence now reflecting reality as Virgilia addressed him as “My lord and husband”. She sat on his lap, brushing away his protestation that “These eyes are not the same I wore in Rome”, and kissed him.
As she continued to sit in his lap, her right hand ventured down to his crotch at which point Coriolanus seemed to sense that he might give in to her. He rose briskly, brushing Virgilia aside and spoke to his mother, going down on one knee.
Volumnia bid him stand and then abased herself fully with her head to the ground and her arms outstretched. The disparity between the two gestures exemplified Volumnia’s greater desperation.
She asked if Coriolanus knew Valeria. He visibly scrambled around in his memory to draw up her potted biography, which he then quoted to signify his recognition. His son was also presented to him and he bowed a knee to his father.
Volumnia pressed on with their request, despite admitting that he would not grant them anything. She explained their predicament, concluding that her son would tread on her womb. Virgilia agreed, coming to stand in front of him, saying “Ay, and mine” showing him Young Martius, with the lad saying he would fight when he was bigger.
Coriolanus made to go but Volumnia stopped him, maintaining that he could win fame and honour by reconciling the Romans and Volscians. She approached him and tried to touch his face saying “Speak to me, son” but he recoiled from her.
He turned his back on her barbed comments, which prompted Volumnia to instruct her party to kneel. They abased themselves face down with their hands outstretched. Volumnia rose hoping to draw Coriolanus’ attention to his entreating son. Still turned away from his family, Coriolanus’ eyes began to water as he listened to her.
Her final barbed comment that “this fellow had a Volscian to his mother, his wife is in Corioles and his child like him by chance” seemed to do the trick.
Without any great pause, Coriolanus simply turned, approached his mother and said “O, mother, mother! What have you done?” But his words were disappointingly flat and expressionless.
This was the dramatic climax of the play, the point at which the oncoming express train of Coriolanus’ force is derailed by his mother’s disapproval. But rather than seeing a great man brought low, Hiddleston seemed too dispassionate, a few leaky tears the only sign of his emotions.
This powerful moment of hushed tension is supposed to herald the cataclysmic breakdown of Coriolanus the colossus war machine. But this version was calm to the point of being featureless, his monotone delivery at odds with the enormity of his change of heart.
However, it was possible that the direction was following the description of Coriolanus at this moment in Peter Holland’s programme note, which pictured him as “no longer angry but strangely calm as he anticipates so clear-sightedly his own death”.
Aufidius remarked laconically that he “was moved withal”. But we knew trouble was coming despite the fact that Aufidius’ menacing aside was cut.
Volumnia looked shocked and astounded at this turn around. Coriolanus congratulated the women on having obtained peace and bade them farewell with kisses and hugs for his family which neatly contrasted with his previous coldness and distance.
The scenes in Rome (5.4/5.5) were cut. The action moved straight to Aufidius’ direct confrontation with Coriolanus with much of the start of 5.6 also cut.
Aufidius began by telling his fellow Volscians to inform “the lords o’the’ city” about events, but suddenly turned on Coriolanus screaming that he was a traitor. He shouted the accusations from around l.20 relating to how he had taken Coriolanus into his trust, and then elaborated how his friend had betrayed that trust by concluding the present peace.
The rapidly-paced sequence picked up from around l.87 with Aufidius’ accusation of treachery, Coriolanus’ retort and Aufidius deliberately addressing him as “Martius”, not using “that robbery, thy stolen name”, all compounded with the insulting epithet “Boy”.
Martius, in line with the highlighting of his death premonition, threw away his sword and invited them to “Cut me to pieces”.
He was beaten to the ground, a chain was attached to his feet and he was hoisted up. Aufidius took a blade and lunged it into Coriolanus’ stomach. He writhed briefly as his blood drained from him.
Aufidius crouched beneath and bathed his head in the flow, saying “hold, hold”. His rage had gone and he promised that Coriolanus would have a noble memory.
Petals fell from the flies as Volumnia came and stood upstage right. Aufidius’ face lit up as he beamed under the shower of Coriolanus’ blood. A child’s voice sang the celebratory words of cut scene 5.5. The lights went out on Aufidius finally fulfilling his wish to wash his “fierce hand in’s heart”.
The fans wanted to give Hiddleston “the whole name of the war” but he was not the most interesting part of the production.
The stiff upper lip understatement in the final scene was either disappointing for anyone expecting passionate emotional fireworks or alternatively could be seen as an intelligent reading emphasising Coriolanus’ fatalism.
Deborah Findlay captured perfectly Volumnia’s combination of ferocity and vulnerability.
Elsewhere, Virgilia was given a greater role through her continuous reactions to events and by her presence at points where does not normally appear. She was made to appear a very unwilling conscript into Coriolanus’ military family.
The casting of Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Virgilia was a clever move. Her Danish accent was a constant reminder of her otherness, a characteristic that mirrored and underscored the production’s emphasis on Virgilia’s outsider status amid the militaristic family into which she had married.
Making one of the tribunes female allowed their collusion to turn into a nascent love affair. These are characters who for all their flaws offer a vague hope of a better democratic future.
This detailing of the minor characters contrasted with the neglect of the minor characters in that other recent star vehicle, the Grandage Henry V.