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Coriolanus review at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘moments of power’

Sope Dirisu in the RSC production of Coriolanus. Photo: Helen Maybanks Sope Dirisu in the RSC production of Coriolanus. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Angus Jackson’s production, the fourth in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Roman season, opens with a drawn-out sequence in which a forklift truck moves bags of corn away from the reach of the citizens.

There’s nothing quite so audacious in the rest of Jackson’s fairly on-the-nose contemporary framing of the play but it features a commanding central performance from Sope Dirisu as the man who cannot and will not be the leader the people are seeking.

Dirisu, superb as the man on the verge of becoming Muhammad Ali in the Donmar Warehouse production of One Night in Miami, is a formidable stage-filling presence, a man of great bravery who emerges from the battlefield saturated in the blood of others, red from nose to knee, but both character and actor seem less at home in the post-battle sequences. He seems a bit too grounded. He does not ooze contempt.

Jackson plays up the element of social division in this most political of plays: this is a production in which the plebeians wear hoodies and the patricians dinner jackets while the tribunes have the smoothness of television-ready MPs.

It shies away from specific contemporary references though and the atmosphere of social unrest is diluted considerably by a sappy and generic string score that seems at odds with the volatile tone of the production.

The second half, in which Coriolanus is exiled, is considerably tighter and features some striking visual moments. Dirisu’s performance becomes richer and there is strong support from Haydn Gwynne as his intelligent, ambitious mother Volumnia and James Corrigan’s Aufidius, who reveals unexpected levels of affection and warmth towards Coriolanus that serve to make the ending all the more powerful. The forklift doesn’t get an encore though, which is a pity.

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