REVIEW: Coriolanus. RSC Stratford

SHAKESPEARE’S play Coriolanus may not be his most popular but there are at least two major reasons to see its latest incarnation at Stratford.

Tragic hero Coriolanus has a new champion in Sope Dirisu and Haydn Gwynne continues to astound in performance as his mother Volumnia.

It is this son-mother relationship which is at the emotionally volcanic core of this play about power, democracy, leadership, corruption and societal division.

Set in famine-hit Rome in 500 years BC, Coriolanus returns a war hero who is persuaded, by his mother and peers, to take on a political role. But it’s an ill-fitting uniform as he is a rare version of politician – one with honest views.

Rome season director Angus Jackson starts the production at a slow-burning pace, complete with a post-Tottenham riot, hoodie-clad mob as the mutinous citizens.

Set against the shared Rome series backdrop, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, this takes on an industrial, factory aspect of worker v owner, poor v rich, commoner v privileged, voter v politician.

Coriolanus is not likeable and Shakespeare does not reveal much about his inner turmoil; there are precious few monologues but Dirisu brings a muscular presence to the role.

It’s obvious he is not a people-person and and he doesn’t win many admirers when he tells the mob: “You common cry of curs whose breath I hate!”.

There are some other notable performances, none-the-least is the constantly impressive James Corrigan as Tullus Aufidius and the kitchen scene, when Coriolanus offers his services to his enemy, and unearths comedy gold.

If you are looking for a simple, popularist message you are watching the wrong Cori; but you will see a version, by Jackson, Dirisu, Gwynne et al, which is worthy of lending your ears and eyes.

But will this play get you to at least understand politics or like politicians in this post-Brexit, Trumped-up world? When the Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner was asked by the Speaker to retract that “half of the Tories opposite are crooks” – he said: “OK, half the Tories are not crooks!”

The RSC’s Coriolanus runs until October 14 and the Box Office is 01789 403493.