Measure for Measure (3)

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Who will believe thee, Isabelle?

Bear with me, gentle reader, as I try to do something a little different in this review of the Donmar Warehouse production of Measure for Measure. You can take it as read that the staging, lighting, music and so on were all as excellent as you might expect, and I’ll probably get to the performances in due course. But this production was clearly designed to make a bold statement about gender and power imbalances, and that’s an area in which it is impossible as a woman not have an interest.

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The Tempest

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Donmar Warehouse (King’s Cross Theatre North)

Tempest first folio.jpg

This was the third part in a trilogy of Shakespeare plays, not obviously thematically linked as plays but performed in a consistent manner – with an all-female cast headed by Harriet Walter and a linking framing device that all the plays are being performed by a group of female prisoners. The first part was Julius Caesar. The second part was Henry IV.

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Henry IV (2)

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Donmar Warehouse (King’s Cross Theatre North)

This was the second part in a trilogy of Shakespeare plays, not obviously thematically linked as plays but performed in a consistent manner – with an all-female cast headed by Harriet Walter and a linking framing device that all the plays are being performed by a group of female prisoners. The first part was Julius Caesar.

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Coriolanus

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Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse

13 Feb 2014

So this was the first in my project to see all 38 plays in 10 years on the stage, and the one that, indeed, sparked the whole notion. Tom Hiddleston played Coriolanus, so the production was sold out, so they had a ballot for an extra week and naturally I won tickets. Well, the chance to pay for tickets. I got two in the front row of the balcony, and then had to find someone to go with. The friend I eventually went with was up for it, mainly because they had stayed up all night on New Year’s Eve to get day tickets and then fallen asleep during the show!

When we met up beforehand, they had said they had been surprised by the queue of fan girls outside when she came – and apparently Tom had been very generous in signing stuff outside afterwards…

Aaaaand on to the show. The Donmar Warehouse is very small, very intimate (which is cool) and the stage production reflected it by being very minimal. Plain floor (although various members of the cast painted squares on it at various times), graffittoed brick back wall, almost all the action carried out with chairs and a lectern. Which worked surprisingly well, for a play about a mob and a war!

The cast was very good – apart from Tom Hiddleston, Menenius was played by Mark Gatiss, one of the tribunes was the bloke who played Don John in Much Ado About Nothing two years ago with David Tennant (clearly has a line in playing evil Shakespearean bit parts. And playing them well.), Martius’ mother was played by one of the old biddies from Cranford, and his wife was played by Birgitte Hjort Sorenson – last seen as a Danish POW/sex pest in Bluestone 42 (somewhat appropriate as all she did, largely, was kiss Tom. We should be so lucky to get paid for it.)

The play was very engaging – I genuinely like it – although I don’t think anyone quite plays up the angles I would around the way he brings about his own downfall by never standing his ground, being incredibly politically naïve even though he is an astute warrior. And the fickleness of the mob. I think you could do interesting/weird/good X-factor references. As , the quality of talking Shakespeare varied. Gatiss, Volumnia, and Hiddleston seemed to understand it the best (and Elliot Levy – the tribune), many of the others were in that annoying “dramatic=shouty” mode, and letting it roll off the tongue rather than get meaning from it.

Hiddleston, I thought, was really really brilliant. Particularly the physical side of things – the scenes where he was wounded actually made me wince with sympathetic pain. There was a shower scene which was impressively un-sexy despite Hiddleston’s naked chest – the mixture of washing off blood, the impressive wound make-up, and the acting of pain were really, really good. He was excellent in the latter scenes where he has to be hard with Menenius and then melt with his mother. The sarcasm when he went through the marketplace, and the anger in the Senate were also awesome.

Gatiss was also excellent – perfect mixing of light and shade – as the light-hearted patrician. And Hadley Fraser gave just the right amount of homoerotic wotsit (but who wouldn’t for the Hiddleston) as Tullius Aufidius –although the decision to make all the Volsciis northern was a bit obvious for barbarians (did wonder if Fraser’s beard was a subtler nod though).

All in all I really liked it. Everyone else was giving it a standing ovation, which I thought was a bit OTT, until I realised it was the last night and we were the only ones not yet standing. So we stood up in a hurry. I hope we weren’t too obvious, but we were in the front row of the balcony so, uh, maybe?

The queues for Tom were not small, and he didn’t come out. Apparently there had been incidents before. Rabid fangirls are clearly dangerous!


 

Guardian review: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/dec/18/coriolanus-review-donmar-warehouse

Rehearsal piccies: http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/11-2013/rehearsal-pics-tom-hiddleston-and-hadley-fraser-pr_32754.html

Fan issues: http://claireyfairy1.tumblr.com/post/71902086315/so-about-the-tom-hiddleston-fans-at-coriolanus, http://www.bubblews.com/news/1778027-my-personal-take-on-the-fan-frenzy-surrounding-coriolanus-and-tom-hiddleston