Solid from top to bottom, Bard on the Beach’s inaugural production of Coriolanus proves that powerful direction, design, and performances can take a notoriously bland script and make it sing.
One of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, Coriolanus charts the rise and fall of Caius Martius, a Roman warrior with a great disdain for the common people. While successful in battle, Martius is unable to flatter the people of Rome, making him an easy target for jealous rivals for power. Insulted and banished, Martius joins forces with his enemies and burns his way across the countryside only to be stopped by the words of his mother. A traitor to both sides, Martius is executed and history moves on without him.
Moya O’Connell plays Caius Martius as a woman possessed. Filled with an insatiable passion, she stalks the stage barking her lines with a command any general would envy. She is matched in presence only by Colleen Wheeler’s Volumnia who stands in the intimidating grace and grey wig of Julianne Moore in the Hunger Games.
The remaining cast is strong but necessarily subdued. Dalal Badr’ Cominius strikes the mark between commanding and deferential, while Praneet Akilla and Craig Erickson play a perfect pair of conniving Tribunes, bringing out the duality of a pair who are simultaneously unsympathetic and yet right.
Dean Paul Gibson’s direction is tight with scene changes flowing with an ever-increasing pace that allows the tension of the show to be maintained. In fact, the strength of the show comes from this attention to tension. From Pam Johnson’s post-apocalyptic set design to Alessandro Juliani’s thrumming soundtrack, it is the show’s’ build-up and release of tension that brings cohesion to all its moving parts.
Coriolanus has never before been performed at Bard on the Beach. While one of Shakespeare’s more complex tragedies, the play is well served by shrewd direction and powerful performances. Go see it.
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production. On stage until September 21 at the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre in Vanier Park. Visit bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.