Another trip to Wales, this time to see the National Theatre of Wales ’mash-up’ of Shakespeare’s play and Brecht’s mid-20th century left-wing spin on it. This one’s in a disused aircraft hangar at RAF St. Athan. It’s extraordinary.
They’ve solved the three great problems of site-specific promenade productions. You have headphones, so you can hear every word. There are two giant screens, so you needn’t miss a thing. You’re not marshalled or herded around, so no distractions built in.
The hangar is divided in two by a double wall so you really do move from Rome to Antium when you walk through the gap. You are the people, so they’re often speaking directly to you; when they’re not, they are in cars & vans (that move) or caravans (that don’t) and you eavesdrop on their conversation on the big screens and through your cans. The play acquires a depth which I’ve never experienced before. The heroic story. The contempt for the people. The loyalty to his mother. The political shenanigans.
You feel like you’re in the middle of events as they unfold. Everything is in black & white like CC TV. This really is happening and you have to decide where you stand. Are you for him or against him? It’s extraordinarily contemporary.
Technically, Mike Pearson & Mike Brooks production is masterly. The combination of live video and personal audio with live dialogue & music is terrific, but it doesn’t get in the way of the dramatic flow of the play – to the contrary, in heightens it. The performances are exceptional too. On a number of occasions I felt like Coriolanus was looking directly at me, connecting with my inner thoughts; Richard Lynch is outstanding in the tile role. Rhian Morgan as his mother Volumia is superb. Richard Harrington is an excellent Aufidius. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting.
I was captivated by this play like I’ve never been before; the staging isn’t a gimmick, it’s a liberation of the story and the text and Coriolanus has never been more compelling or thrilling.
Based on my three visits to NTW, this company is very special indeed; I will be making more 340-mile round-trips – work this good doesn’t happen that often. The undoubted highlight (in English) of the World Shakespeare Festival.