This is a difficult confession to make public: I don’t love Shakespeare. I select which Shakespearean plays to see at Stratford based upon the the lead actors not the script. This year’s casting of André Sills in the role of Coriolanus is inspired. Over the past few years I have observed Sills at the Shaw Festival (Master Harold and the Boys; An Octoroon; Adventures of the Black Girl In Her Search for God). His ability to inhabit his characters is remarkable. And that’s a good thing because the Coriolanus character has a complex emotional profile; there’s the soldier, the politician, the husband and father, the son, and the friend. Sills honours each role.
In short, Coriolanus is the tragic story of a Roman general who becomes a senator, who when he takes a stand against populism, is banished from Rome. In exile he joins a former adversary to wage war against the city of Rome. But the play is about much more than sentinel historic and political events. It’s about family and friendship too. Coriolanus’ mother (Lucy Peacock) has been the force behind the man. She has forged his values, encouraged him to run for the senate, and entreats him to compromise with his fellow politicians. However, he is still her little boy. She treats him so, and he responds accordingly. With his friend, Menenius Agrippa (Tom McCamus), Coriolanus is able to speak his mind. Menenius is a patrician who takes a more tolerant stance on Roman political affairs than does Coriolanus, and is faithful through the arc of their friendship. The dramatic events, in juxtaposition with domestic scenes and collegial conversations, had this audience member in rapt attention from beginning to end.
The play, directed by Robert Lepage, has been staged in a modern manner while maintaining Shakespearean dialogue. I found the use of soundscapes and projected images to be effective. This Shakespearean play stands up extraordinarily well to a contemporary interpretation. For playgoers who are fans of the author, and for those who are indifferent, Coriolanus is an extraordinary performance by a cast of fine actors. It’s a ‘must see’ at Stratford this year.
Coriolanus is playing at the Avon Theatre in Stratford until October 20, 2018.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.