Tom Hiddleston wasn't attracting quite the same level of young female attention the last time I saw him on stage in Othello and then Ivanov in 2008 but since then he's broken into big screen Hollywood comic book movies playing bad brother Loki (brilliantly) in the Thor and Avengers films.
The fact that he had a stage career before Hollywood will surely satisfy those theatre critics that harrumph at starry castings. Hiddleston is a highly accomplished actor (watch the Henry V he did for the BBC's Hollow Crown last year if you don't believe me) and I was certain he'd be equal to the role of the heroic, proud and tragic Roman leader Coriolanus.
Whether it is because she is mindful of the inevitable younger audience Hiddleston will attract or just the desire to give the production a fresh and contemporary feel, director Josie Rourke's Coriolanus is high-energy and face-paced.
The brick, back wall of the Donmar stage is daubed with graffiti that reflects the opinions of the common people in the play, fresh graffiti is added graphically, using projections, as the story unfolds. Other than a collection of black chairs and one ladder there is no other stage decoration. Between scenes the cast position the chairs in choreographed moves accompanied by loud techno music, the actors slamming them down to match the rhythm.
Costumes are contemporary, some with a Roman twist. Lots of tight, black jeans and boots but with sword belts and leather armour chest pieces.
Coriolanus is a political drama where the protagonist unwittingly engineers his own downfall. It's a study of pride vs politics. Coriolanus is a successful leader on the battlefield and a skilled warrior. Any humility he displays when he returns to Rome victorious after defeating the Volscian army is short-lived when old prejudices and grievances with the plebeians surface.
He is a bit of a snob and wears his heart on his sleeve. Where his friend Menenius (Mark Gatiss) would placate, negotiate and compromise, Coriolanus's pride won't let him hide his disdain, something which ultimately blinds him to danger. As quickly as his star has risen, it falls with Coriolanus's contrition coming just too late.
He looks physically exhausted when he appears bloody from battle as if the adrenaline has finally subsided. His body shakes with pain as water splashes onto his wounds. (Yes we are treated to a partially stripped Hiddleston standing under a torrent of water to clean himself off.) There are also signs of fear when he is at the mercy of his former enemy.
With his mother Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) you can see elements of where he gets his temperament from. The scene in which she, with his wife Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) pleads for him to give up his plans for revenge is a masterclass of conflicted emotions.
For all the music, chair banging and showers of petals, dirt and other items (it's not just water Hiddleston has poured on him) this remains a character and performance-led piece and Rourke and the cast are to be congratulated for that. Hiddleston is so good that it is easy to miss the rest of the cast. Gatiss, RSC stalwart Peter de Jersey, Elliot Levey as well as Findlay all put in superb performances - in fact, there are too many good names to mention them all.
This was the first preview and there were some issues with pacing and delivery in the first half but once it settled it flew. There was a rapturous applause (with some standing although I don't it really counts when it is the crew) and afterwards, Rourke was being hugged and congratulated. I overheard her say: "It will get better, it's the first performance." She is either modest or a perfectionist.
Tom Hiddleston has always spoken very highly of Mr W in interviews but I don't have any evidence that they have ever met. They both went to RADA but at different times and were both in the Hollow Crown series but in different plays so I'm not going to rely on that as a direct connection. So, the connection (one of many, it's getting easy) is that Peter de Jersey who plays Cominius was also in Richard II.