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Coriolanus

By • West End
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Coriolanus, Almeida Theatre at the Gainsborough Studios

If there's a justification for opening up this old film studio to the Almeida, this is it. This complex play, which deals with political manipulation and the sin of pride and which examines the bond between mother and son, has been magnificently served by Jonathan Kent's production. True, the vast space seems too large for the action and the half a dozen citizens do not make much of a populace. But Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus transcends the limitations of the set.

His is a magnificent performance - when he shouts 'Make you a sword of me?' one can only answer, 'yes'. Fiennes bristles with menace and explodes across the stage like an offensive weapon. When he's faced with the clanging doors of the city of Corioli, he charges through them on his own, like a one-man killing machine.

But it is in the scenes with the mob that Fiennes really stands out. Unable to contain his sneer, he stands like Ozymandias, a look of contempt etched on to his face. In the forum scene, where he has to come before the people in order to win their support for election to the senate, he quite literally sells himself, barking out his words like a market trader. Fiennes reaches his peak in the final scene. Faced with Aufidius's accusations, his roar of 'Measureless liar' echoes round the vast space, and he is killed by Aufidius alone - a logical culmination to their blood feud.

Fiennes' performance is well matched by Barbara Jefford's chilling Volumnia. When she says that 'Thy valiantness was mine. Thou suckedst it from me', you really believe. This is one fearsome woman who should have been sent against the Volscian army herself. Like a Roman Maggie Thatcher, she terrorises the people around her and reduces her martial son to jelly.

There are other strong performances, too. Oliver Ford Davies' Menenius starts off full of wisecracks and good humour but grows more despondent as he sees the oncoming downfall of his friend. And he is truly piteous in his last scene, prostrate before Aufidius. Bernard Gallagher and Alan David are deeply devious as the tribunes who incite the mob against Coriolanus - two masterly portrayals of political manipulators par excellence. And Linus Roache is a robust Aufidius, emanating just a hint of homo-eroticism in his relationship with Coriolanus.

But fantastic support aside, this Coriolanus really is Fiennes' show. His portrayal burns into the memory - and is well worth enduring the most uncomfortable seating in London. You won't see much better Shakespearean acting.

Maxwell Cooter


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