The Rose Playhouse on Bankside is an excellent setting for Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and To the Elephant have cut the piece smartly so it runs around 100 minutes without an interval. It’s a shadowy tragedy mixing war and politics in ancient Rome, the young and committed cast fill the space with gritty fighting and sinister collusions.
Making great use of the original Elizabethan site as the stage for some of the anguish and violence, the cavernous space allows the large cast room to move and shout. The natural echo, minimal lighting and smoke all add up to a desolate place, particularly in the final moments. Most of the action still takes place on the main thrust stage where the narrative is developed. It’s a complicated plot and the key points are covered.
The costumes and props are a mixed bag. There are nods to ancient and modern dress, the military uniforms more effective than the ordinary people’s outfits. The stylish suit of Coriolanus ally Menenius marks him out as a politician to watch and he is slickly played by Atilla Akinci. Chris Royle brings a conflicted intensity to the lead role, both heroic and contemptuous. He is a simmering ball of rage, as scary when channelling his anger into victories as when exploding at his many enemies. The main female characters of Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia (Alexandra Parker), and wife, Virgilla (Kate Marston), don’t have much stage time but give strong voices to conflicts in Rome.
There is clear modern relevance in this performance as the vocal public rabble flip flop depending on which senator or consul has the podium. Head down the road from the Globe to see a rowdy and distinctive take on a dark Shakespearean tale.
Coriolanus is playing at the Rose Playhouse until 15 September 2017.