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Heroes can be villains too

Coriolanus, RSC Stratford, until October 14.

Forming part of the RSC's Rome series, you'd be forgiven for expecting the Coriolanus set to be akin to the staging of Antony and Cleopatra, featuring velvet swags, columns and rich costumes. Instead we see something resembling an Amazon warehouse.

The play opens with three pallets of grain centre stage, which are carefully moved back behind metal shutters using a forklift truck. Grain hungry hoodie-clad plebeians clamber up on to the shutters and start banging them with metal sticks.

Just short of breaking out into "Stomp", the actors make a dramatic statement from the start that this play is determined to make contemporary references.

Caius Martius, played by Sope Dirisu, is a muscle-clad warrior. He appears blood-soaked and victorious following some impressively choreographed fight scenes. His prowess on the battlefield rightly earns himself the title of Coriolanus.

But what comes next is Coriolanus the moody son. His over-proud mother, Voluminia, played flawlessly by Haydn Gwynn, pushes her son into politics. However for a man used to getting his way with a sword in his hand he has no way with the people, and refuses to give them what they want - mainly a gory glimpse of his war wounds.

Affronted, the citizens of Rome exile him - and he "exiles" Rome back. So there.

In the most enjoyable scene of the play, Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius at his house and at last there a few jokes to lighten the mood as they plot revenge against Rome. James Corrigan's Aufidius completely steals the limelight here.

Mother is sent to get Coriolanus to calm down, but the scene where he breaks down in tears in front of her features some rather unconvincing wailing from Sope Dirisu.

It's a safe bet most people didn't study Coriolanus at school, but the RSC's interpretation is easy to follow for anyone coming to it for the first time.

Leaving the theatre, an American behind me remarked that he'd have liked "a better distinction between the good and the bad guys". The idea that heroes can become villains if the public turn against them was obviously lost on him. Odd concept for someone with a Twitter-hungry president not to get.

Picture by Helen Maybanks, RSC.

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