14 Jul Coriolanus
Directed by Andrew Hilton
22 March – 21 April 2001
Production Photos © Alan Moore
James Anderson Citizen, Senator & Soldier
Lucy Black Virgilia
Carol Brannan Volumnia
Mark Buffery Cominius, Consul & General
Peter Clifford Citizen, Senator, Soldier & Volscian Lord
John Collett / James Hilton Young Marcius
David Collins Sicinius Velutus, Magistrate & Tribune
Stuart Crossman Titus Larcius, General
Chris Donnelly Citizen, Aedile & Volscian Soldier
Cameron Fitch Tullus Aufidius
John Mackay Citizen, Soldier & Volscian Lord
Jonathan Nibbs Junius Brutus, Magistrate & Tribune
Paul Nicholson Menenius Agrippa
Robert Pheby 1st Senator, Servingman & Soldier
Samantha Portlock Servant to Volumnia & Citizen
Saskia Portway Valeria
Tom Rogers Citizen, Soldier & Servingman
Gyuri Sarossy Caius Marcius Coriolanus
Nick Wilkes Citizen, Senator & Aufidius’ Lieutenant
Director Andrew Hilton
Set & Costume Designer Andrea Montag
Lighting Designer Paul Towson
Consultant Sound Designer Dan Jones
Composer Elizabeth Purnell
Fight Director Kate Waters
Fight Captain Peter Clifford
Edition Dominic Power
Production Manager Dan Danson
Stage Managers Esther Last & Samtha Portlock
Technical Stage Manager Mim Spencer
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
The Times ANDREW HILTON is now in his second season of running one of the most exciting theatre companies in the land … Shakespeare’s drama of patriotism and pique, gripping material but requiring a cast of Romans fighting Volscians, and plebs rebelling against patricians, makes it a play tackled less often than its abiding interest merits. Hilton has assembled a company of 18 actors, vocally strong, and with interesting faces too, always revealed as individuals in the crowd scenes – not a hint of rhubarb in their responses – and their achievement is thrilling.
Menenius confronts the Mob Featured photo (above): Gyuri Sarossy as Caius Marcius
There is not a toga to be seen. Instead, the shrewdly apt setting is the mid-18th century, when an entrenched aristocracy with neo-classical leanings was unsettled by the first clamours for democracy. Patricians in silver wigs confront citizens in tricorn hats whose two representatives, the tribunes, look mighty pleased with their elevation into lawyer’s black. Old Menenius’s “Fie, fie!” and the occasional “Your ladyship” go particularly well with breeches and hooped dresses.
Gyuri Sarossy’s young hero is like an impatient public-school prefect forced to seem friendly to oiks from the local comprehensive. Affable with his peers, his face splits into a thuggish grin when he catches sight of Cameron Fitch’s Aufidius, the rival from another school he loves to beat. He is capable of standing still but you sense his feet twitching to be on the move once more. His smile when he confronts the people is eerily fake, and when his mother reproves him, he puffs out his cheeks in a sort of confused dismay. For all his dreadful behaviour he is a tragic hero, and his dilemma becomes painfully visible when his mother (a craftily imperious Carol Brannan) impels him to contradict the very nature she has encouraged in him.
Carol Brannan as Volumnia
Some productions downplay the disruptive behaviour of the tribunes in order to glamourise the role of people against bosses. Hilton has no patience with this; he gives them their original prominence, gleefully sensing their newfound power, with David Collins a suave smiler and Jonathan Nibbs resembling a pinched Presbyterian. Studded with such attractive performances in lesser roles as Mark Buffery’s stalwart Cominius and Saskia Portway’s larky Valeria, this is a production to savour.
The Independent … In spite of its universality, Coriolanus is performed rarely, mainly because of its epic cast, so it is an unusual choice for a company specialising in chamber Shakespeare. Yet Andrew Hilton’s staging is fully up to the standard that has brought universal praise for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory. Despite the adherence to classical staging and the avoidance of gimmicks that make Hilton’s productions such pure pleasure, there is a feeling of modernity in many of the performances.
Here, Coriolanus is no grizzled warrior, but a young man thrust to prominence by his fighting prowess. In Gyuri Sarossy’s hands, he has the air of a public school prefect unable to disguise his contempt for oiks and townies. His mother, Volumnia (Carol Brannan), would have been perfectly at home in the Edwardian era with her passionate chorus of Dulce et Decorum Est, while Jonathan Nibbs and David Collins present the tribunes of the people with such an air of sleazy, faux-humble self-aggrandisement that one could almost imagine oneself in the Commons.
David Collins, Paul Nicholson & Jonathan Nibbs
All excellent performances, but the entire company deserves praise. Even if this were not one of Shakespeare’s best plays, nor a production by a director who can elucidate every phrase of the text, it would be worth seeing just to witness such an outstanding ensemble piece. Being all three, the Tobacco Factory has delivered yet another outstanding production; anyone who misses it is a fool and a scullion.
Toby O’Connor Morse
★★★★ The Daily Express … Also outside London there’s a chance to see a cracking production of Coriolanus in a converted tobacco factory in the Bedminster district of Bristol. This tragedy is another rarity – usually regarded as a cold epic that requires a monster stage. Instead, Andrew Hilton directs this very intimately, in-the-round but with a full-sized cast. The lavish costumes are the frock coats and elaborate dresses of the 18th century with hints of the French Revolution – it’s very much a play about revolting plebs.
Gyuri Sarossy is a boyishly athletic Coriolanus, an oik-bashing toff of the old school who turns on his native Rome. His youth underlines the play’s point that Coriolanus is, in the end, a total mummy’s boy. His battles with the rabble and with Rome’s arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Cameron Fitch), provide most of the action. There’s great support from Carol Brannan as Coriolanus’ mum, Volumnia, and Paul Nicholson is a memorable Menenius.
Staged with a good pace and a crystal clarity, the unfunded Tobacco Factory continues to smoke some seriously good Shakespeare.
“I would I were a Roman … ”
Shakespeare came to this story – which is part history, part legend – in Sir Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, a book that remains one of the defining texts of the English Renaissance.
Shakespeare plundered it repeatedly – for Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens and Julius Caesar – in transformations that, while the greatest of tributes to North’s vigorous and contemporary prose, would certainly have broken modern copyright laws. The famous ‘The barge she sat in …’ speech from Antony and Cleopatra is almost pure North, as are many of the speeches you will hear tonight. But Shakespeare had an eye for more than a good story and a vivid image. Roman values and virtues were at the centre of his contemporaries’ obeisance to the classical world and the Lives provided a touchstone for them, awarding its protagonists praise or censure as the ancient world itself might have done. I believe it was this moral dimension that really caught Shakespeare’s imagination.
For North, Coriolanus was – like Antony – a Roman who fell short, a faulted hero. Haughty, obstinate and uncivil, he recklessly connived in his own downfall. Shakespeare subtly but radically refocused this, exploring Rome’s consuming need for him to be exactly as he was, the absolute embodiment of its deepest fantasies and desires – inhumanly fearless, noble and unworldly. Ultimately making of him, perhaps, a sacrifice to values that Shakespeare regarded not with Elizabethan awe, but with abhorrence.
For our setting we have chosen an English neo-classical rather than a Roman one, to reflect Shakespeare’s double vision of an English society aspiring to Roman civility and valour. And we have looked to a period in our history that we believe best expresses that English/Roman doubleness to modern eyes.
Gyuri Sarossy as Coriolanus & Lucy Black as Virgilia
Often played as a coldly epic, large-scale piece, I hope you will agree that, on the contrary, this play’s passion and complexity – which I believe should place it amongst his greatest works – make it ideally suited to our ‘chamber theatre’ style.