Peter Ormerod reviews Coriolanus, presented by the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford
Mum’s most definitely the word in this impressive and stylish production of one of Shakespeare’s less-performed tragedies. Like so many gangsters, Mafia bosses and anti-heroes after him, Coriolanus is the hardest of hard men – until his mother appears. Then the flinty edifice crumbles.
Sope Dirisu makes a magnetic Coriolanus, imperious and impervious. As a general, he’s without equal; but he respects neither the adulatory tendencies of his peers nor what he sees as the uncivilised nature of the common people (he just wants them to wash their faces and clean their teeth).
His inability to compromise leads to his expulsion from Rome – which he spins as him expelling Rome from himself. If any man is an island, it’s him. It’s striking that we never hear him soliloquise: he doesn’t want to let even the audience in on his inner life.
Yet there is one person who can get through to him – his mother, Volumnia, in whose role Haydn Gwynne gives a masterclass in maternal manipulation. It’s not hard to interpret her overbearing love as an attempt to resurrect her husband.
With sleek design shifting from the light industrial (clanging shutters and the like) to the elegantly formal, and with sharp costumes aplenty on show, Angus Jackson’s production has much grace and subtlety. It may not be especially emotionally powerful, but it’s an effective study in pride, men and mothers.
* Coriolanus runs until October 14. Call 01789 403493 to book.