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Ntw Coriolan/us

ntw coriolanus coriolan/us

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#1 igb


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Posted 13 August 2012 - 06:39 PM

Apologies for starting a new thread, when I'm sure I started one when it was announced: I'm at the end of a wet piece of string of an Internet connection and can't find the old one.

Having loved the 2010 Persians that NTW did, I was very keen to see this production by the same creative team.   Some parts of the concept are vaguely similar --- a disused military facility (although the original plan was to use a sound stage), heavy use of video and voice amplification, very foregrounded parallels being drawn with current events.  But the effect is very different: much more threatening, much more intense.

The facility being used is a pre-war aircraft hanger at RAF St Athan, a dark, echoing, ominous space where listening to someone twenty feet away is difficult because of the immense reverberation.  A pair of breezeblock walls divide the space, between which there are dumped some burnt-out cars to provide a setting for battle scenes.  And at the end of the hanger are a pair of large video screens, onto which are projected pictures from cameras, both roving in the audience and mounted on tracks up in the roof space.   The audience all wear silent-disco headsets to which is delivered a mix of voice, music and effects, which means that the actors can speak in a film voice and be relayed perfectly.

The text is a mixture of Shakespeare and a translation of Brecht.  I confess to never having seen Coriolanus on stage, and my only real knowledge of it comes from seeing the Fiennes film a few months ago.  I gather than what's been done is that the plebians' speeches ("First Citizen" and "Second Citizen", which are here major roles) have been replaced with Brecht's text, which you can hear quite obviously, but there may have been other changes and merges which I wouldn't have spotted.

The action takes place in promenade,  with Rome at one end of the hangar and Volscians at the other.  Around the edge of the hangar are old caravans which do duty for indoor scenes, while cars and a Sherpa van provide the focus for the outdoor scenes and a means for the actors to get around. The actors never leave the acting space, and nor do the audience: it's 2h15 with no interval.  Some people took the provided seats and watched the action on the screens, most walked around, following the action.   Because the cameras can enter the caravans, the intimate scenes can be played as close-up cinema, the audience all able to see and hear via the screens and headsets.

It's a stunning production.  The language is spoken with startling clarity, because the actors don't need to project to the audience.   The movement, and sometimes not really knowing where the next scene is taking place, gives a constant sense of energy.  The bareness of the set (a few car tyres are about the only props that are moved) and the simplicity of the costumes (almost, but not quite, street clothes of today) focusses you absolutely on the text.  The programme shows some costume designs which are more elaborate (SAS balaclavas, gas masks) which would have been too much: the ability of the actors to blend in and out of the audience was part of the power of the piece.  The video screens show how television constructs a reality which is similar to, but also different from, what is actually happening.

The individual performances are great, too.  It would be invidious to pick out individuals, because they all do superb work.   They are carefully delineated in speech as well as costume so that you can easily tell who is speaking, even if you are at the wrong end of the hangar.  My daughter thought that each of them pronounces Coriolanus in a slightly different way, as if to show that each is seeing a different facet of him: if she's right, it's a subtle and interesting effect.

There's a few cavils.  My wife found the first couple of scenes ominous and oppressive, and was worried throughout (nervous soul that she is) that it was going to erupt into violence and explosions.  It didn't, and in fact it became progressively more intimate and more reflective as the evening progressed, but she'd had liked some notification that the initial sense of threat --- which is very strong --- doesn't get any grimmer.  Although they'd taped over the silent disco headsets to conceal the flashing lights that are meant to go in time with the music, it wasn't completely effective, so sometimes there were blue LEDs pulsing in time to the speech.  If you're stood at the Volscian end of the hangar, the screens aren't visible because you're stood right underneath them.   In the crucial scene towards the end between Coriolanus and his family, his mother ended up forgetting that the intent is naturalism via the microphone, and in projecting her voice she ended up getting the resonance of the space coming back through the sound system and making her speech essentially incomprehensible.  But Billers and the rest are right: it's a superb piece of work.

#2 Honoured Guest

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 11:15 AM

This production was brilliant but for me it completely failed because I couldn't understand who the characters were, what the situation was, or anything about what was going on. I think you needed to have a good familiarity with the play, or at least with an (absent) synopsis. Every scene begins cold somewhere in the hangar so you have to rely primarily on the words, which you hear with perfect clarity throughout on the headphones. I was bored because I was completely lost. I would have left after 30 or 40 minutes if I hadn't had to wait onsite to the end for the organised coach transfer. I was so disappointed because I've thoroughly enjoyed about a dozen previous Mike Pearson productions, but unusually the key to this one was the language, with nothing else to follow for people like me who have difficulties with that.

On the other hand, I enjoyed The Wooster Group parts of Troilus and Cressida because they gave me stuff to pay attention to throughout.

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