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‘My nothings monstered’; a review of Coriolanus at the Donmar

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

I was delighted when a friend of mine contacted me out of the blue to say she had a spare ticket to Coriolanus at the Donmar – a show I had been vainly trying to get into for weeks on end. Critics have mostly been raving about this production of one of Shakespeare’s goriest tragedies: the story of a man whose courage in the face of his enemies has him revered by his people… until his unwavering pride rears its blood-soaked head.

Though the decision to stage the show at the Donmar was a controversial one, my feelings are generally positive: the Donmar is a small space, stripped bare of gaudiness and grandeur, allowing instead Shakespeare’s exquisite words – and our (anti)hero’s larger-than-life personality – to do most of the work.

Director Jamie Rourke made the brave and successful decision to stick to the Donmar’s usual style of minimalist sets, pounding, palate-cleansing techno music between scenes, and what are mostly contemporary, non-distracting costumes consisting of dark jeans, Doc Martens, and a hint of armour. At the back of the stage, a black brick wall is graffiti’d with the protest cries of the Roman plebeians, then scrubbed clean during the action and used as a backdrop for clever projections. In the middle of the stage, inside a red square painted onto the boards at the start of the show, stands a ladder – a versatile prop which is also easy to ignore when it is not needed.

There is almost no use of backstage in this production: all the characters are mostly omnipresent, in a “switched off” state when they are not in scene, sitting neutrally on chairs lined up by the wall. These chairs are also moved around in choreographed steps implying scene changes.

The decision to cast geeky heartthrob Tom Hiddleston and ‘Sherlock’ writer and star Mark Gatiss has certainly helped put bums on seats – each night the theatre is packed wall to wall by predominantly female audience members who have come from far and wide to watch their favourite stars at work – three of the girls I went with had travelled from the US. And this seems to be a trend this season, with the dishy Jude Law playing Henry V at the Noel Coward Theatre, and dreamy 10th Doctor David Tennant in an RSC production of Richard II starting this month.

These are intelligent casting choices, but also admirable ones, bringing Shakespeare to some people who may otherwise not have been tempted to give the Bard a try.

But this is also a suitable casting choice. Hiddleston had a career on stage long before Hollywood came knocking. A member of the current flock of public-schoolboy actors, Hiddleston is also an exceptionally talented, RADA-trained actor whose experience includes parts in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Othello, as well as Chekhov’s Ivanov, and a 2011 film production of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea’ alongside Rachel Weisz.

Said to have been penned between 1605 and 1608, Coriolanus is based on the legendary Roman general Caius Martius. The play was famously proclaimed superior to Hamlet by modernist poet and critic T.S. Eliot, who called it the Bard’s greatest tragic achievement, and even included the character in his own magnum opus, The Waste Land.

As the proud protagonist, Hiddleston is a perfect mixture of haughty, entitled brat, and conflicted man whose stubbornness is ultimately his downfall – a politician who refuses to compromise on his views to pander to his public. His is a powerhouse performance, with each consonant hit like a drum, every emotion played convincingly, and with enough cheek and action to keep everybody interested – even those not too fond of pentameter.

Coriolanus is a victim of his society and of his own mother, Volumnia, played deliciously by Deborah Findlay. She is pushy, idolising her son as a war-god and raising him to glory… then tearfully wondering why he ultimately ends up seemingly devoid of emotion and devoted to war.

Borgen’s Brigitte Hjort Sorensen plays Coriolanus’s wife – a conspicuously silent role in an otherwise verbose menagerie of characters. But, stuck between two as headstrong as Coriolanus and Volumnia, who could possibly dare to speak?

Mark Gatiss provides excellent comic relief as Menenius, a humorous patrician, whose humour is doubly tragic when he is turned away by his beloved hero after a heart-felt appeal. He is also the one tasked with delivering the famous ‘Fable of the Belly’, which Shakespeare plucks from Aesop’s tales – one of the first examples of the ‘body politic’ metaphor.

Most poignant in the end is the slightly overdone homoerotic relationship of ‘togetherness or nothing at all’ between Coriolanus and his nemesis Anfidius, played by Hadley Fraser, which culminates in a gory climax which, while bursting with shock value, is a moment of beautifully striking imagery as the men’s journey mirrors itself: while the end of the first act is marked by Coriolanus washing himself of Anfidius’s blood, the end of the show sees Anfidius washing himself in Coriolanus’s blood.

This is by no means a subtle production – it is gritty and visceral from start to finish, but it is also a pertinent comment on the inner workings of the elite, and the psychology of politics.

The post ‘My nothings monstered’; a review of Coriolanus at the Donmar appeared first on davinia hamilton.

Links! Disney! Tolkein! Time Travellers! Fallacy Man!

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

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Yes, they are a day late this week. Apologies. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose sense of time and place has been completely destroyed by the festive season, especially the dreaded Christmas – New Year perineum, as somebody succinctly put it. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the holidays and are slowly settling back into your routines and regular eating/sleeping patterns. The Holiday Hangover really is a bitch, isn’t it? Anywho, onwards to the links which have had me tickled pink over the holidays.

The post Links! Disney! Tolkein! Time Travellers! Fallacy Man! appeared first on davinia hamilton.

So long, 2013; hello, 2014

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

IMG_1657[Ta' Xbiex, Malta; August 2013]

Dear 2013: You were quite rubbish and I’ll be really happy to bid you farewell tonight. From frustrated unemployment to medical emergencies, you really hammered in those nails nice and hard. You’ve brought sadness, death, misplacement and a whole bunch of wtf. But sitting around wallowing in emotional debris has never helped anyone, so I’m choosing to honour the positive things I’ve taken from the year that needs to sod off now.

Typical of me to start with this, but I read lots of books this year. Lots of them. Still a little short of my 52-book-a-year goal, but lots nonetheless. 2013 was the year I really rekindled my little bookworm brain and started reading regularly again for the first time since I graduated from university five years ago: as much as I loved doing my English degree, reading/memorising/critiquing that many books and poems in such a short span of time kind of takes it out of you. I’m glad to finally be back on track.

My BFF with the awesome hair, Hannah, went travelling at the end of last year for six months. Selfishly, I was overjoyed when she came back. She flew to see me in London before she went home and then, when I had to go back to Malta over the summer, I was once again (selfishly) happy that she was there to keep me afloat. I had been dreading the move, but it turned out not to be too bad (mainly because we spent most of it scoffing ice cream, ranting about things like a couple of teenagers, swimming, and sprawled out under the air conditioning in my room watching TV shows and films).

It was a good year for entertainment. First, I pretty much camped out on the set of Sherlock back in March when Season 3 Episode 1 (‘The Empty Hearse’, which airs tomorrow evening on BBC One!) was being filmed in front of Barts Hospital. That was weird and wonderful and I won’t give anything away because I’m not an awful person. This year, we also had a fantastic third season of Game of Thrones, a hilarious second season of Girls, and a brilliant final season of Breaking Bad, along with terrifying offerings from The Walking Dead and the conclusion of How I Met Your Mother. Not to mention Broadchurch, the last season of the (sadly cancelled) Whitechapel, the excellent Ripper Street, and shows I’ve yet to sink my teeth into, including Orange is the New Black, Homeland, and House of Cards.

On the theme of entertainment, 2013 was a great year for cinema, with a really good mix of indie movies and blockbusters, like Star Trek: Into Darkness, Mud, Pacific Rim, Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine, Despicable Me 2, The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug, Nebraska, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Kill Your Darlings, Gravity, Les Mis, About Time, and Philomena, Silver Linings Playbook, Filth, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Cloud Atlas… as well as some staggering disappointments. *Side-eyes at Luhrmann’s Gatsby*

I’m thankful for the few months I got to work in journalism again, and feel blessed to be able to meet so many interesting people and hear their stories through my work. It is always incredible when somebody trusts you to do justice to a chapter of their life. I am also content with the new skills I have learnt this year through courses and internships, and for the greatest perk of my current job: restaurant reviewing, which strikes envy in many.

This year, I took a course in screen acting and I filmed my showreel (at the world-famous Pinewood Studios, no less) and have been to see a number of fantastic plays, musicals & ballet on London stages, including Coriolanus, One Man Two Guv’nors, The Mousetrap, The Rite of Spring, From Here to Eternity, and – of course – my favourite, The Drowned Man (five times).

I didn’t get to do lots of travelling this year, mainly because most of my flight money was spent on tickets to/from Malta and on a short holiday to catch up with old friends in Dublin. I did, however, get to see a new city – Berlin. Brief as it was, we had a really good time there, partying in derelict buildings with locals, seeing the sights, and getting lost on trains. I hope to be able to do lots more travelling in 2014 (Argentina! Morocco!)

2013 taught me to enjoy small pleasures, to make the most of them even when the walls are crumbling. Family, friends, passions – those are the foundations, and if they’re intact then you can just about cling on, even though life’s taken the shape of a huge-ass wrecking ball, complete with a twerking Miley Cyrus astride it.

Ugh. Twerking. Can we forget about that nightmare and banish it to the depths of obscure history? Thanks.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope 2014 is way, way better for all of us.


The post So long, 2013; hello, 2014 appeared first on davinia hamilton.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

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Whatever you are celebrating and wherever you are, I hope your holidays are filled with love, family & friends, and plenty of joy.

The post Happy Holidays! appeared first on davinia hamilton.

Sherlock mini episode: Many Happy Returns

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Eight days to go till Season 3 and there is a new Sherlock mini episode which is basically 7 whole minutes of feels and this smug smile and wink right here.

Christmas has come early. Also featuring: Anderson’s beard.

The post Sherlock mini episode: Many Happy Returns appeared first on davinia hamilton.

Links! Apocalypse! Hard work! Victorian Phrases! Love Actually!

Friday, December 20th, 2013

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The post Links! Apocalypse! Hard work! Victorian Phrases! Love Actually! appeared first on davinia hamilton.

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