Coriolanus was summed up for me when the lady sitting next to me read aloud her latest Facebook status: “Who thought a three hour long outdoor production of Shakespeare in February was a good idea!?” I have to ask the same question.
There were great things about this production. Its political resonance was foremost: Coriolanus was a brave choice but an apt one and its dramatization of the conflicts between people and authority, of the negative potential of an unpopular leader, couldn’t help but speak to Cameron’s Britain. Julia Padfield’s set played up this aspect, with posters imagining an election that predates Shakespeare’s opening. In this version, the strewing of ballot papers before the first scene became a pointed reminder of events last May.
Acting was even, with some performances standing out. Will Taylor as Coriolanus had the imposing physical presence, although his movements were a little rigid and words began to be lost towards the end of the play. Hugh Tappin and Laura Gledhill had an excellent chemistry as the play’s villains but Gledhill could do with a little more projection. Felix Grainger was a strong and sustained Menenius.
But the interest of the play came from the performances of Annie Hayter, Victoria Gawlik and Georgie Murphy, as Aufidius, Volumnia and Cominius. Each actor brought a compelling firmness to her role, so that each became as threatening as the tyrannical Coriolanus. Volumnia’s closing speech was powerfully delivered, and I enjoyed the physicality of Hayter’s relationship with Shakespeare’s hero.
Mainly though, it was just really, really, cold. So cold that my feet were disfigured when I returned to my room and it took a warm shower to revive me. So cold that an audience could bond over its mutual experience of that cold. When the lady next to me offered to share the blanket that she’d been savvy enough to bring and I – hapless student – had not, I politely declined. But on a second offer a little way in, whispering “don’t be proud”, she received eager acceptance. We shivered away together under communal blanket, surrounded by huddled communal mass. I’m pretty sure every discussion I overheard during the interval was a variation on “My feet are freezing”.
Our freezing extremities took precedence over anything the play had to offer and that was a real shame. Concentration was palpably waning towards the end of the long first-half and moments of dialogue were lost to stiff fidgeting and murmurs of “this is really cold”. I found that all I could focus on was the prospect of finding somewhere to thaw, and quickly. On the other hand, the actors put up an impressive fight; all were seemingly impervious to what was literally paralyzing the rest of us. They really do deserve applause for that and so does director Lucy Clarke, for the sheer audacity of staging Shakespeare outdoors in mid-February.
I think it’s doubtful I’ll forget my experience in Regent’s Park quad. But that’s sadly more because I don’t actually think I’ve ever reached that level of numbness than a tribute to the endeavours of the team behind Coriolanus.