Last summer we had the pleasure of experiencing a spectacular thought-provoking play at the Ontario Stratford Festival. Coriolanus, a William Shakespeare play, addresses the rise and fall of a Roman ruling class politician who refuses to compromise despite the consequences. This outstanding play is now available on film in theaters starting March 23. If you missed the play at Stratford here is your chance to see this truly amazing play or to see it and enjoy it a second time!
The play is superbly acted, modern and surprisingly delightful and trailblazing in its special effects, much the way the National Ballet’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” was when it was first staged. Robert Lepage brings a modern sensibility to the direction and production of the play which delightfully resembles a movie. In many ways Coriolanus is contemporary in its political references which connects splendidly with the audience. The play is at the same time exciting, thought provoking and extremely entertaining.
The Sad Tale of a Stubborn Man
The play chronicles the adult life of Caius Martius or Coriolanus, his Roman title. A high ranking military general and hero turned politician. Coriolanus’ elite attitude alienates the masses causing his decline and banishment from Rome following a mass mob uprising. The uprising ensued following the manipulation of public opinion by two Tribunes appointed to represent the masses following unrest due to food shortages. Following his loss of title, social standing and expulsion from Rome, Caius Martius sinks into anger, depression and despair, eventually espousing the rebel leader whom he had previously defeated in battle. The purpose of the alliance is to attack Rome and destroy the people and institutions that caused his expulsion. Sadly, one of these institutions that Coriolanus tries to destroy is the rise of democracy which as an institution transfers some of the elite’s power to the masses.
Caius Martius’s exile has clearly failed to alter his character or opinions. He remains as determined to crush the emerging new order as he was prior to his exile. Is the uncompromising undemocratic protagonist of Shakespeare’s last play a villain or a hero? Is he admirable or deplorable? This might well depend on your perspective and perhaps your political point of view.
The Nature vs Nurture Subtext
Is a person a product of their nature or upbringing? The play attempts to address this question.
Caius Martius’s relationship with his mother, Volumnia is a theme that runs through the play. Volumnia is by any account a strong and ambitious person having raised her only son without a father. She most definitely influences the actions of her son, molding him into a successful soldier and ruling class Roman leader. One might take the position that this was her responsibility as an upper class Roman mother and single parent.
In reality, Volumnia probably represents the expectations of the privileged Roman establishment, rarely concerned with the masses or the implications of their actions on those they consider to be socially subordinate. For Volumnia and her son, the potential backlash of public opinion becomes irrelevant until it is too late.
At some point Volumnia, the consummate survivor, effectively changes her position but unfortunately her son lacks flexibility and sadly clings to his old way of life and values to the bitter end despite his mother’s pleading tears. Caius Martius is just that stubborn and resistant to change, even when change would sustain his survival. It is simply not in his nature to compromise and unlike other Shakespeare protagonists there is little in Caius Martius that is redeeming.
Robert Lepage Vision
The use of intriguingly beautiful special effects including a talking head, texting discussions between two young soldiers and a screen like staging with film inserts such as opening credits support Robert Lepage’s modern vision for the play.
The period wardrobe at times takes us back to the Mussolini’s Italy or perhaps Franco’s Spain or Peron’s Argentina. The use of camouflage feels very modern. Could the wardrobe itself be a veiled reference implying a warning for more current times?
Robert Lepage has skilfully and subtly transformed the play making it convincingly relatable to current times where Twitter and other social media platforms have made it possible for “public opinion” to be expressed whether the opinions are positive, negative, informed or misinformed. These public dialogues although empowering can also be manipulated to create “fake news” narratives. In Coriolanus the opinions of the masses were manipulated by their Tribunes. Today, social media can be used to manipulate public opinion with political consequences far beyond anticipations, challenging not only democracies but also core values and our views on humanity. In Rome the challenge to the political order was democracy and in today’s world it is the global rise of right and left wing extremists.
The play was superbly acted with particularly brilliant performances by Andre Sills as Coriolanus and Lucy Peacock as his mother Volumnia.
This exceptional, thought-provoking and entertaining play which played at the Stratford Festival Avon Theater in 2018 is now on film offering a second chance to see this incredible play to those who missed it or to those who would love to see it again!
Coriolanus will be screening at Cineplex Theaters on March 23. For more information on show times, locations and tickets for Canadian screenings please consult https://www.cineplex.comf/Events/Stage.
U.S. and international distribution will follow through BY Experience. Please check your local listings.
The film will also air on CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, in the summer of 2019. Digital and on demand release will follow.