Coriolanus | Heartstring Theatre

With two Melbourne Coriolanus productions in a single month and the recent successes of the Donmar production and Ralph Fiennes’ film, I wonder if the play’s period of rarity and obscurity is finally at its end. And powerful, exhilarating productions such as Heartstring’s show the play’s sheer potential, maximising the energy and emotion of the entire cast.

Despite the relatively small cast, the power and tension of the play’s crowds is brought to life to the audience directly becoming the citizens and soldiers that occupy Rome. Along with engulfing the audience within the play, being addressed directly is a powerful reminder of the play’s public nature. From the play’s impassioned ending to its chilling conclusion, a dull rumble fills the stage as the eyes of the people track the characters; they are never alone, never at peace, and it destroys them.

Visually the play lives up to its fantastic promotional shoots. The costumes are a spectacular blend of Ancient Rome and a post-apocalyptic wasteland enhanced by the simple but effective set of stacked crates. These unite to build the fascinating world of the setting, strengthened by scattered hints throughout the dialogue of the world recovering from a disaster. Its subtle and engaging world-building that enhances rather than detracts from the overall story.

From the play’s impassioned beginning to its chilling conclusion, a dull rumble fills the stage as the eyes of the people track the characters; they are never alone, never at peace, and it destroys them.

The purely female casting works almost seamlessly and provides a fascinating take on a play so entrenched in traditional masculinity. It does raise a small plot hole of why the ambitious and warlike Volumnia keeps to the fringes of politics and war when her gender doesn’t prevent her from ascending herself, but that is the nit-picking of someone who is far, far too invested in this play. The gendered language is also intriguing, with the brief maintained references to masculinity building the intricate world and adding to Aufidius’ final insult.

Elisa Armstrong’s Caius Martius brings an interesting sensitivity to the role, showing her proud ferocity along with her often neglected moments of warmth and humour. Catherine Glavicic’s vibrant, witty take on Menenius now sits as my favourite for the role, and Alys Daroy and Sonia Marcon are well rounded and distinct tribunes who both thrive in scheming while showing genuine disgust for Coriolanus. Jo Booth is fantastic as both as Coriolanus’ powerfully gentle wife Virgilia and her great rival, Aufidius, who seems to delight in the chaos unfolding though I would have loved to see this clever double-casting explored more. The ensemble smoothing cycles through a variety of roles, including managing to avoid hitting audience members over the head with poles.

Personally I’m somewhat confused about the high R rating, since in in terms of blood it appears fairly tame by tragedy standards, making me wonder if there have been content changes since the previews. Regardless, the play is well cut, providing a fast paced play maximising tension.

Coriolanus is a stunning debut production, showing the potential of both the rare play and the upcoming, female-centric casting. I’ve booked my second ticket and am eagerly looking forward to where Heartstring will go in years to come! It’s a fast-paced political and social thriller, and with a couple of shows to go it’s not to be missed!

Click here for Coriolanus performance dates, ticketing prices and more information

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