Coriolanus review: When mother knows best



Richard Lutz takes his pew for a story about power and the inability to compromise.

“The thing about Coriolanus”, a chirpy theatre-goer told me in the interval of this Shakespeare play, “is that he didn’t listen to his mother like all good boys should.”

He was right. The arrogant Roman soldier ignores mum Volumnia and refuses to act as the sympathetic war hero in order to win the hungry masses. Instead he disdainfully calls them  as “a cry of curs.” His patrician arrogance stains him with exile and, eventually, leads to his own death. Mother was right.

Haydn Gwynne, as the politically savvy Volumnia, is the shining star of this production at Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre. She may be marred by an unsettling warmth towards her macho son. But she has her boy’s best interests at heart. Play the game, she says, make as if you like the smelly masses that you have to win to become political leader.

She cajoles, she jeers, she begs. Gwynne (The Windsors, Nice Work,  Ripper Street) changes from an arch -Roman matriarch to washed out hag begging her son to show mercy. He doesn’t listen until it’s too late. He’s a naughty little boy in this, another part of the Rome season jigsaw the RSC is producing in Stratford. 

Sope Dirisu, in the title role, acts at a single pitch, a shedload of shouting and exposition and not much shade to his character. A lot of heat, in effect, and not much nuance. But he wields a gory and mean sword in some splendid battle scenes as he takes on rebel enemies.

Admittedly, Dirisu has a tough row to hoe. Shakespeare doesn’t draw on an inner conflict unlike, say, in Macbeth or Henry V. At times, there is a graphic novel depth to the play – and possibly that is what this young actor is really trying to display. Or maybe he is climbing a steep learning curve on the hard stage of Stratford. In short, actress Gwynne saves the day.

Until 14th October. Box Office: 01789 403493.