By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jack Paterson. Presented by the Coriolanus Equity Co-op. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, February 27. Continues until March 14
There’s a reason we haven’t seen a full production of Coriolanus in Vancouver for over 100 years: it’s not very interesting, even in this generally well realized Equity co-op production.
Coriolanus is a Roman general who leaves a trail of blood and submission everywhere he goes. Because of his military success, he’s made a consul, but he’s not keen on one of the requirements of taking office, which is that he gain the consent of the people. A moody, impulsive aristocrat, he contends that any nod in the direction of democracy is akin to allowing “the crows to peck at the eagles”.
Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus, two ambitious Roman tribunes, capitalize on the general’s arrogance and turn the rabble against him. Alliances, counteralliances, and battles ensue—which makes for a lot of stage fighting.
The play states its ideas and then simply repeats them. Coriolanus is both noble and arrogant. We get it. Coriolanus has a creepily incestuous relationship with his mother, Volumnia, but other than that, there’s not a lot of depth to the characters; often, they seem to change their minds only so that the playwright can maintain narrative momentum.
This changeability is extreme in the case of the general public, which is presented here as an easily manipulated, ignorant mass. Democracy has its flaws—Stephen Harper is our prime minister, after all, and attack ads work, but I’m pretty sure I’m for the system. Politically, Coriolanus is a mildly offensive dead end.
The production itself is a mixed success. In the title role, Ian Butcher makes sense of a man who is both infantile and a warrior. As Volumnia, Gwynyth Walsh is articulately, frighteningly fierce. I also particularly enjoyed the depth of emotion that Corina Akeson brings to the almost wordless role of Coriolanus’s wife, Virgilia; Una Memisevic’s innocence as the general’s young son; and the venality of Adam Henderson’s Brutus.
Director Jack Paterson has given the role of Coriolanus’s chief military opponent, Tullus Aufidius, to Anna Cummer. The sex change doesn’t work. When Coriolanus and Aufidius engage in stage combat, it’s obvious that the hulking soldier could snap his petite opponent in half. And rather than finding a more cunning and credible way to portray power, Cummer bellows in an attempt to make herself appear larger.
Overall, the skill levels vary in the large cast.
The play’s last words talk about Coriolanus’s nobility, which I just don’t buy. Maybe this script would appeal more to blue bloods and hawks—or perhaps I should say eagles.