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*There are still going to be screenings of “Coriolanus” into February and even March in some locations, so check the National Theater Live website to search for your area. It’s our firm belief that even if you’re not a Shakespeare nerd, you’ll enjoy watching this play.*
Last Thursday we went to see Donmar Warehouse’s production of “Coriolanus” broadcasted by National Theatre Live in a cinema near us (well, near Lorena, Jamie had to travel a couple hours). It was epic and tragic. Since it’s over four centuries old, we’re not feeling exactly like we need to warn you about spoilers, but here you go: Spoilers!!!
So you know sort of what it’s about, Donmar Warehouse provides this summary:
When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender: Coriolanus. But famine threatens the city, the citizens’ hunger swells to an appetite for change, and on returning from the field Coriolanus must confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people.
For reference, Caius Martius is Coriolanus’ actual name. Coriolanus is an agnomen he receives after singlehandedly defeating the entire city-state of Corioles (right before he helps defeat another city-state and then takes a shower on stage, just contextual FYI). We refer to him as both Martius and Coriolanus throughout our discussion.
much further ado [about nothing], let’s get to our breakdown of the production…
Lorena: So, first I want to say that I’ve never seen Tom’s ass look so good.
Jamie: True story.
Lorena: I know that’s a little, er, crass and forward, but those pants! Bless the costume designer’s little heart.
Jamie: For real. Somebody knew what they were doing.
Lorena: Speaking of tight pants and knowing what you’re doing, did you notice any semi-hard action after his wife sat on him in the final scenes?
Jamie: Not gonna lie, I was totally looking for that. Judge me as you will.
Lorena: I judge you as rational and awesome!
Jamie: Thank goodness
Lorena: I really feel like it was a big in Japan moment on his lefthand side, er no, righthand side, our left. Stage right, orchestra left!
Lorena: May we also discuss the kisses between he and his wife Virgilia (what a name, huh!)
Jamie: Oh, I found gifs of that. And watched them for quite some time. And cried into a pint of ice cream. Stand by, I’ll get the link.
Lorena: OMG. I don’t even want to see them
Jamie: Too bad, here they are lol
Lorena: It was like watching the guy you’re in love with passionately make out with his girlfriend who you’ll never be as hot as
Lorena: THE WORST
Lorena: Every time, I just hated her, and then him, and then myself. Clearly an unhealthy situation
Jamie: It probably is. I don’t really see what can be done about it other than Tom being less…Tom
Lorena: I mean, yes, exactly. It was gorgeous acting, from that standpoint. They were clearly in absolute love with one another.
Lorena: Other unhealthy things from the play: the ending.
Jamie: Uh yeah. And like the crazed homoerotic blood bathing thing
Lorena: I took the liberty of looking up William’s original script to see if he was as sadistic as the Donmar crew… NOPE! William was totally more normal.
Jamie: I did that, too.
Lorena: We are both normal then — Normal like Shakespeare!
Lorena: For me, it was the gutting bit.
Jamie: Ugh, yes.
Lorena: Also, why couldn’t they have stripped Tom naked for that part so at least we could see the back porn? I guess I don’t want that association though. Back porn + gutting of his belly = horrific
Lorena: But the song at the end was good. I liked that touch. Truly haunting
Jamie: Yeah, and how the mother comes out
Jamie: Also, the whole mother thing was crazy
Lorena: She was the best!
Jamie: Coriolanus is the ultimate mommas boy lol
Lorena: Just hilarious… I love the bit when he’s refusing to go apologize to the plebeians and then she pulls the “woe is me” guilt act and he’s all, “I’m going!” And then equivalently I liked how Virgilia was immune to the mother’s guilt
Jamie: YES. He’s a dick to everyone, and all his advisers are like ‘you really need to apologize.’ And he’s all ‘screw you no way’
Lorena: Right, like, the SENATOR of Rome is all, “For the love of Mars, just apologize!!!”
Jamie: Then his mom tells him to do it and he scampers off
Lorena: Like a dog, yes. There’s a good boy!!!!
Lorena: How great was Menenius though (aka Mark Gatiss)?
Jamie: Yeah! I loved him. I wasn’t really expecting to be interested in anyone other than Tom, but he was GREAT!
Lorena: Right! I’ve seen him in a decent amount and he’s a writer for both Sherlock and Doctor Who, so I feel like I know his style quite a bit, but it was really pleasant to see him in this.
Jamie: Yeah he was so fun. Like the one scene in the fifth act when he’s trying to get in to see Coriolanus and the guards won’t let him in and he basically has this ‘guys, I’m kind of a big deal’ attitude
Lorena: Right! Like, “Do you even know who I am?”
Lorena: But let’s back up to the SURPRISE homoeroticism of Act IV…
Jamie: Yes. So…I guess, why do we think they went that way with the production
Lorena: I don’t know. I suppose Aufidius is a psychopath? And had this weird obsession with Martius…and they thought, “This will play out in the most surprising way.”
Jamie: Because in the play the lines are there where we can see where they got it from. It’s something like “We’ve been down together in my dreams.” Or something like that.*
Lorena: True. There’s so much physical body talk, too. It’s like an underlying sexual theme throughout, without being explicit.
Jamie: So, is it like a message on masculinity, because I kind of thought it was.
Lorena: What message did you see sent by the kiss?
Jamie: Well Coriolanus didn’t seem to reciprocate, so it was definitely all on Aufidius’ side, but I definitely dont think he was like “in love” with Coriolanus.
Lorena: So was it a way of emasculating him, as though the tides of power had shifted?
Jamie: Yeah I definitely got the more “possession” vibe from it, like he was trying to gain the power and emasculate him. I know Hadley did an interview where he was asked this question and I honestly forget what he said.
Lorena: Hm… I’m sure we can refind it… less fun than looking for Tom interviews. I won’t lie, though, I did a little bit hope Martius would kiss him back.
Jamie: I don’t think you’re at all alone there lol
Lorena: But on gender and choices with the production, I really liked their use of the ensemble
Jamie: yeah me too
Lorena: The girl who had the first line was so good!
Lorena: Rochenda Sandall (looked her up)
*The play reads thus and then Aufidius goes into detail about conquering Rome together:
Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sigh’d truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold. Why, thou Mars! I tell thee,
We have a power on foot; and I had purpose
Once more to hew thy target from thy brawn,
Or lose mine arm fort: thou hast beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters ‘twixt thyself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other’s throat,
And waked half dead with nothing.
Lorena: OH! Seeing the cast list reminded me of HOLY CRAP HOTNESS Dean Thomas
Jamie: UH. YES.
Lorena: I couldn’t believe that was Enoch. Like couldn’t believe!
Jamie: How did the HP cast learn to ace puberty so hard?
Lorena: SERIOUSLY! HP casting director commands some serious props for their awesome
Jamie: But before we get off of gender in the play, I thought it was interesting that at the end when Coriolanus is all ready to wage war, and then his wife and mother come to him, and he ends up crying with them and talking to them, and then actually listens to them. When he decides to listen to the women in his life intstead of Aufidius, who is all ready to go to war, that is when Aufiduis loses it and that’s when they hang him and gut him.
Lorena: Well, I think that anyone who swayed him would’ve pissed off Aufidius. In the actual script Aufidius has him murdered later in Antium in a public manner. So, this production’s abbreviation of that did quite a few things:
Lorena: That said… it’s impossible for the play to go any other direction. So, were they making a statement or were they simply utilizing the play space they had and Tom’s incredible ability to cry while he has a semi-erection? I wonder if Josie Rourke is on Twitter, I kind of want to ask her…
Jamie: omg, he is the most BEAUTIFUL crier
Jamie: I have gifs of that as well of course
Lorena: Um… of his semi-erection?
Jamie: See, I concluded that there wasn’t anything happening there. That there was just some weird pants action happening because he had been sitting and then stood up.
Lorena: I’m glad you took the time to research that 😉
Jamie: Of course. I’m very thorough.
Jamie: I’ll keep that number to myself lol
Lorena: Okay, I have a confession. The dude who played Brutus, Elliot Levey, I find totally hot. He’s like a Michael Sheen alike! During the play, I kept staring at him. Sometimes even when Tom was onstage.
Jamie: He kind if is! But he was a no go for me because he reminded me of my uncle.
Lorena: Ew, yikes!
Jamie: yeah, so…you’re alone on that one lol
Lorena: Fine. I’ll present that Sheen – Levey comparison for readers and let them decide.
Lorena: Okay, let’s talk some technical stuff!
Jamie: Like the set?
Lorena: Yes! Set, the paint, the music (!!)
Jamie: Because I thought I was going to be weirded out by how small it was and them using the chairs.
Lorena: National Theatre Live shot it really well. So, I guess we need to discuss BOTH productions: NTLive and Donmar
Jamie: Yeah it’s hard to know what it would have been like to be there, when the camera isn’t deciding what you’re looking at
Lorena: Right. But how they set up so you could take it all in at times, and then the OTS. There were only like 2 directional errors…clearly it was blocked (by the camera crew). I wonder if it was live directed though?
Jamie: Yeah I’m not sure about that.
Lorena: I guess I can tweet Emma Freud 😉
Jamie: I would guess that it was.
Lorena: So many women behind the scenes on this bad boy!
Jamie: That’s always good
Lorena: Yeah, from Emma’s comments, it sounded like they’d come in midweek to a matinee to determine how to shoot it, and then they went from that.
Jamie: That makes sense
Lorena: Okay, so the set…I found it to feel like it was really large, actually. Especially during the war scenes — the ladder into the city walls was BRILLIANT!
Lorena: And omg more fake blood than True Blood!
Jamie: omg poor Tom was, like, drenched in it
Lorena: yeah, when he’s wiping his eyes and then it’s all on his teeth and he’s hurt and just like, “Guys… I really just want to shower and chill out… Um, also, have we no wine here?!” My fave line!
Jamie: and then THE SHOWER
Lorena: YES. It was admittedly less hot than I hoped for. I feel like the water was legitimately cold and unpleasant because his nipples could cut diamonds.
Jamie: Plus, the character was in like intense pain
Jamie: So it wasn’t like this sensual thing
Lorena: And when he shook his head like a dog, I kind of lol’ed a little bit. And seriously he was ONLY sensual when kissing his wife. I suppose that’s commendable (grumbles)
Jamie: Wait. I beg to differ. That body roll at the council was pretty sensual lol
Lorena: OH HO! I had forgotten about that thrust! And the ensuing “lost our shit” squeal of the female audience
Jamie: I appreciated the leg grab that you gave me there to make sure I was ok lol
Lorena: I was more passing on my reaction
Jamie: I have a gif of that, too
Lorena: It was similar to Loki pushing Jane out of the way. We needed to share energy at that moment.
Jamie: We did
Lorena: Oh man. (breathes) OH! And then the times he’s accepting the voices in that giant see through cloth…
Jamie: Modesty gown for the win lol
Lorena: Without any pants on. At all.
Lorena: No wonder this shit is sold out.
Jamie: I would love to say I’m all cultured and above all of that. but please. PLEASE.
Lorena: It’s Shakespeare! He is ABOUT that! William gets us. Trust.
Jamie: I was full on giggly school girl
Lorena: No, me too. But so was Tom! God he was hilarious in that scene.
Jamie: Yes, he was SO good in that scene
Lorena: He was good at all the times, but that one was fabulous fun.
Lorena: And I’m not just saying that being all biased and crap, he’s legit good. Everyone in that play was legit good at all the times.
Jamie: Yeah seriously
Lorena: Okay… the music at intervals. I HATED IT to start and then I slowly adjusted…and it became seamless to the show.
Jamie: Well I had read in a few articles that it was going to be techno, so I was prepared.
Lorena: Ah! I went all purity ring (aka no free time cuz of work) and had no clue. Truly though, can one prepare for that?!
Jamie: Yeah the first couple of times it was really jarring
Lorena: Maybe it became quieter as it went along?
Jamie: I think it might have. Or maybe we were just used to it?
Lorena: Hm… another Ask Josie moment.
Jamie: So what are our thoughts on Coriolanus as a character? because he’s supposed to be this huge jerk and everything, and he kind of is, but I still felt bad for him
Lorena: Well, he was a giant dick. However, because of how great Menenius was and how terrible the tribunes were, I felt in support of him.
Jamie: Like, he’s a soldier, and makes it very clear that he has NO interest in politics. Then everyone bullies him into it, and when he does stuff they don’t like they get all pissed.
Lorena: Right, and clearly there’s that whole coup plot by the tribunes to give power to the people, but then the people prove to be unworthy of it! The whole thing states basically that any form of government will suck.
Jamie: Exactly, you can’t win
Lorena: Because the populous couldn’t see past their own needs, exactly as Martius points out at the beginning during the corn riots.
Jamie: On the one hand, the people need to have their voice, but what happens when the people are kind of morons? On the other hand you cant just have this whatever I say goes dictators.
Lorena: But Martius had no pity for the people, in fact he had scorn and disdain. And since he conquered an entire city ALONE, he basically doesn’t need people to do anything for him. Which in a way makes him a demigod. Why is Tom always a demigod? What does this say about us and our attraction to him?
Jamie: That we aim high lol
Lorena: (laughs) The gods are UNKIND to mortals. That’s what I learned in 7th grade ancient history.
Jamie: This is true
Lorena: I guess that underlines a couple things for me. I did have actual problems with the play itself. And I know it’s not like “cool” to call out Shakespeare, especially when he’s so clever and funny, but I really felt like the play was disconnected in tone. At the end of the first half when he’s banished, his emotion is sadness. He genuinely doesn’t want to leave his family and is annoyed that he has to go because of the plebes’ ignorance. Then when the second half starts, he’s like this completely bitter person.
Jamie: Yeah, there were these huge pendulum swings
Lorena: It was like teenage hormones or something. Giving me whiplash!!!
Jamie: I didn’t know if there was an implied passage of time that I had missed
Lorena: Maybe, but still, it needs to be referenced… “I’ve been gone from Rome for 10 months.” He told them he’d be back in a month, so we’re to assume it’s within that frame?
Lorena: Which is just not long enough to be so pissy bitter that you’ll side with your sworn enemy and agree to destroy your entire city and all of your family and friends
Jamie: Right, that seems like a hardcore reaction for that amount of time.
Lorena: Coriolanus had more character than that.
Jamie: Yeah, he did
Lorena: So, where did that go?!! I can’t tweet Shakespeare and ask wtf happened. #frustrating
Lorena: I think that is why I felt like my soul had been taken away at the end of it. Because I wanted to care and I wanted to believe, but I couldn’t. Then it got so uber emotional and then he was slaughtered like a cow.
Perhaps he went to Aufidius and then they fought in many wars together and gained all this power together, and THAT was what formed him into the bitter person?
Lorena: Maybe there weren’t enough techno timeouts in the second half?
Jamie: But there were hints of the bitterness earlier, like when everyone wanted to like gawk at his battle scars and he was like FUCK YOU
Lorena: True, yes
Jamie: Which I was with him there for. Maybe just because I’m super private, but I thought that was SO insensitive of them.
Lorena: Right. Only his wife was like, “I’m good with you being your whole beautiful self and I don’t wanna look at your scars, thanks. Let’s just passionately kiss for 10 really, really long seconds instead.”
Jamie: YES! VIRGILIA FOR THE WIN
Lorena: And truly she was the only person who deserved to look
Lorena: YEAH! WE LOVE-HATE HER SO MUCH!
Jamie: Because she was the only one who cared about him. His mom was all like, ‘I hope he gets honor” and Virgilia was like, “WHAT IF HE GETS KILLED?!” Which seems like the obvious concern.
Lorena: But I think it was, with the plebes at least, if he’s to publicly serve them, then he is “their property.” So the battle victories he endured are part of who they are culturally. But he didn’t agree with that culture, which was probably a red flag to NOT have him run for office.
Lorena: His mother was insufferable. I wouldn’t marry into the family because of her. And I mean it.
Jamie: Seriously. Mother in law from hell.
Lorena: And Tom is really hot, but NOT WORTH THAT
Jamie: Yeah seriously, especially when he’s always going to listen to his mother over you
Lorena: Exactly! She should’ve birthed Aufidius! Then his psychotic nature would at least be explainable…
Jamie: For real
Lorena: Okay. I think I’m done. I’m all worked up now. We need like a snake hips moment or something
Jamie: I know, I’m getting so upset lol
Jamie: So overall, we’re glad we went to see it, yes?
Lorena: Definitely! I would’ve loved to be there live (as would like… the whole world), but, future…
Jamie: Because even though it was a huge downer, I liked it and that wasn’t a play I normally would have gone to see.
Lorena: For sure! And it was really fresh, just a great new take with the grittiness and minimalism. It really let the emotional journeys take the forefront.
Jamie: and like they said in the videos, it really is relevant politically and what not.
Lorena: Definitely! There is still classism, so it is definitely relevant.
Jamie: Which seems crazy for a play that’s hundreds of years old.
Lorena: Corruption and entitlement seem to be as resilient as cockroaches in nuclear fallout.
Jamie: Exactly, which is a shame, but it’s good that plays like this are still put on then.
Jamie: So good for you Donmar warehouse!
Lorena: Yes, bravo, Donmar! And to answer Emma’s global question, we totally did not give a standing ovation. It was way awkward for that!
Jamie: No, that would have been too weird. People clapped though.
Lorena: Yes, much applause was had. I was too busy trying to find my soul!
Jamie: I know I was just kind of sitting there gutted
Lorena: Though, I think that it was weird with the audience you’re watching applauding and then the encore applause and it’s like, “Okay, time to go now.”
Jamie: hahaha, yeah really, let those actors go rest
Lorena: haha, have we no wine here?!
Jamie: We needed some wine! Or a shot or something
Lorena: Something. I never want to feel that way again
Jamie: Yeah, I hope the next play Tom does is happier. He should do Newsies or something lol
Lorena: Yes! Enough with the tragedies
Jamie: We know he can dance
Lorena: Oh heyyyyy! You just brought it to snake hips!!!