Reviewed by Jenny Seymour
I just love the fact I live in Sheffield and get to see theatre live at the Crucible – what a venue! Once again, Sheffield Theatres have excelled in how they used this fabulous venue. From the moment we arrived in the auditorium and spotted the wooden barriers half-way up the auditorium we guessed we were in for immersive 360-degree entertainment. We weren’t disappointed! From the moment the lights go down after meeting the warrior Caius Marcius, the cast deftly arrive and surround the audience taking on their role as the commoners all set to revolt. Caius Marcius does not understand their contempt: how can they complain when he has fought and won so many battles for Rome?
What I find incredible about Shakespeare’s writing is its enduring relevance. This lesser-known Shakespeare play is as relevant now as it ever was. Whilst Sheffield Theatres have sought to ensure that this production is more modern and inclusive, the script on its own still resonates with the modern audience. The play is set in Rome and tells the true story of the Roman Emperor Caius Marcius Coriolanus. We hear how he is honoured with the name Coriolanus after defeating the city of Coriales, but the warrior cannot hide his contempt for the people, which leads the Tribunes (who represent the voice of the people in the Senate) to seek for his death (which is muted to banishment as Coriolanus exiles himself rather than face death by the people.
There are some very strong performances from all of the main cast members, most notably: Tom Bateman as the fit and valiant warrior, Coriolanus; his “proud” mother Volumnia (played by Stella Gonet); Alex Young, returning to the Crucible once again, in the role of Tribune-leader Brutus; her Tribune partner in crime Sicinius (played by another returning actress, Remmie Milner); the formidable Theo Ogundipe (who plays the arch-enemy turned “partner” Aufidius); Katy Stephens who plays the General Cominius and; finally, Malcolm Sinclair who plays Menenius (right-hand man, loyal supporter and father figure to Coriolanus). I would also like to give credit to Sheffield People’s Theatre (SPT) and the appearance of their actors in the ensemble. It is great to see Sheffield widen the participation and experience in this way.
The set (once again, simplistic in its style) works effectively to transform the Crucible into the Senate in Rome. The scene changes are cleverly woven into the storytelling and themselves set the scene: from the fences that divide the Volsces from the Romans, to the lights which when used with the sound effects manage to depict helicopters flying overhead. There is an overhead screen, which if you are a regular visitor to the Crucible you will have seen before. However, on this occasion it is used to continue the dialogue for those of us that do not understand sign language (which is used in a number of scenes). Whilst the use of signing is remarkable, it is (at times) distracting, so the dialogue on-screen is helpful.
This play is fast paced, gripping and intense and does not shy from the violence between these sworn enemies. There are some surprising twists in this plot, which enables you to see the play from both sides’ perspective. Do the people always know best? Should the ruler’s honour their people or should the people rely on the fact that they know best? I don’t think either of these positions are correct and this is played out well in Coriolanus. As ever, Shakespeare has created some formidable characters: Coriolanus is not a particularly loveable character, but Tom Bateman plays him well and the use of sign language when communicating with his wife enables there to be a silence on stage whilst we see the softer side of his character. This softer side is not often shown mind you and the rolling eyes between Menenius and Valeria as they attempt to sooth his incandescent rants helps bring the comedy into through two characters.
An immersive, action-packed, gripping tale of valiance and honour. Does pride come before a fall? Watch this lesser-known Shakespeare play be brought to life at the Crucible Theatre in a way which shows relevance today.
Tickets cost from £15 (booking fees may apply).
Coriolanus is at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield from 6-28 March 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
[Please also note: If you park in the local Q Park car park, remember to claim your 1 hour FREE ticket from one of the members of the theatre staff before you leave.]
Crucible Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000