Modern camouflage and Roman battledress in Coriolanus

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare at Colchester Mercury until November 3This is brave, controversial stuff, the costumes a mixture of ancient Rome and modern camouflage battledress and it has men playing the women's parts.

David Henshall

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare at Colchester Mercury until November 3

This is brave, controversial stuff, the costumes a mixture of ancient Rome and modern camouflage battledress and it has men playing the women's parts. But in the end it is still a good story well told. And, most importantly with the Bard, you can hear the words.

Coriolanus is not top of the Shakespearean pops and not easy to stage but Tina Packer's direction on a bold, tall-pillared set keeps the story moving at a brisk military double and there's plenty of action, including a mass sword-fight and a death by many cuts which will no doubt delight the boys in school parties.


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Caius Martius is Rome's fighting hero, constantly hitting her enemies for six and after giving the latest threat, the nasty Volscians, a real hammering, he is given the title Coriolanus and made Consul in the Senate. The trouble is that Caius Martius is a man with a great deal of baggage and far too much pride.

He is also a prize snob. All that is required of him is that he say a few nice, comforting things to the hungry plebs and show them his battle scars, as is the custom, but the new Coriolanus tells the mob to go jump in the Tiber and, driven by a couple of bolshy on-the-make Tribunes, the people turn on their saviour and banish him from the city.

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This causes the man who is supposed to love Rome more than his life to join his old, most-hated foe, Audifus, leader of the Volscians, and the two warlords then march on Coriolanus's home town and its fickle, now helpless occupants.

One after another the city's top men are sent to bow and scrape before Coriolanus, including his dear friend Menenius, in a bid to stop him burning and sacking Rome but

without success. Then Volumnia, his much-loved mother turns up with Coriolanus's wife and child. Can she do what the men couldn't?

You almost get used to the idea of men playing the women's roles but it is not always easy with the headscarves and deep voices, and there are moments when Les Dawson's over-the-garden-wall drag talks with his nosey neighbour and slight shades of the Life of Brian creep in.

The desert boots and battledress uniforms are perhaps meant to remind us that our present world of wars is not much changed from the gory days of Caius Martius - but slipping Roman togas over them does help with the necessary many quick changes.

Justin Grattan is an athletic, personable Coriolanus and he is given great support by Nigel Gore, Tim Treslove, Marshall Griffin, Roger Delves-Broughton, Ignatius Anthony and the rest of the busy, talented line-up. But you ain't seen nothing yet because next at the Mercury is Julius Caesar with an all-women cast.

David Henshall

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