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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus

I just saw Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus.
He was incredible!



You must go see it -- it’s broadcast in movie theatres around the world with NTLive. Check your local listings here:



I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share my thoughts with you.
I was expecting a great performance from Tom Hiddleston.
But I was also confused. Why he would want to do this play? Why not Macbeth? Why not Hamlet? What was it about this play and this character that attracted him?
I think the character of Coriolanus is almost impossible to portray correctly. As much as actors try to humanize the character, the more I think about the character, and the more I read the Coriolanus play, the more I'm convinced that Coriolanus is not supposed to be human, he is not supposed to have more than one dimension.
He is a monster. 



He is a feral animal that has been fed a constant diet of raw meat his whole life. All he knows is war and death. He likes blood. A lot.
His mother -- one of the most frightening mothers in all of fiction -- raised her son to kill or be killed, and she admires him for the scars he has suffered. 
It is when he tries to become more than what he is, it is when he tries to be a good father, husband and son that he finally becomes vulnerable and is killed for it.
It is in the final moments that his mother, against her own nature tries to make her son un-learn all that she has taught him. 

with Hadley Fraser as Aufidius


She has been the only one in his entire life who could really command him. She is the only one he really fears.
He obeys her command, he goes against his own nature, and is killed.
When we think of Coriolanus and his mother Volumnia, we should think of famous ancient Romans like Julia Agrippina and her son Nero.



Agrippina plotted against her brother, emperor Caligula, later married emperor Claudius (her uncle!) to gain power, killed and banished her enemies, poisoned Claudius, and then fought a power struggle with her son (who became emperor) so bitter that he had her killed.
Nero is one of the worst tyrants in history. He is perhaps most famous for possibly setting fire to Rome. The city burned for five days while, as the story goes, he played the fiddle.
When Coriolanus is banished from Rome (for fear of his becoming a tyrant), he turns around and marches on Rome. The Senators, his mother, and his old friends fear that he will burn the city.
Cominius was a general and friend to Coriolanus. He tries to talk to his old friend and commander out of sacking Rome:

COMINIUS
I urged our old acquaintance, and the drops
That we have bled together. Coriolanus
He would not answer to: forbad all names;
He was a kind of nothing, titleless,
Till he had forged himself a name o' the fire
Of burning Rome.

Coriolanus’ mother tells her son that if he burns Rome, he will be remembered ‘with curses’ and his name will forever be ‘abhorr’d.’
The point is that, Coriolanus is not far from being a Nero, whose name has forever been ‘abhorr’d.’ That is what the Senators were afraid of when he is becomes Consul, and they were not wrong.
He wants to be a tyrant, he wants to dominate. 
If he had ruled Rome, the city might not have survived his tyranny. Even when he is banished, Rome might not survive his army. 
Either way you look at Coriolanus, he will burn Rome -- like Nero.



To me, that is the central question of the play. What  do you do with such a powerful leader -- one who can destroy you no matter what?
As much as I admire actors who try to make this character human, I think they have made the wrong decision. There is no humanity in Coriolanus. As  Menenius says: “there is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger.”
Having said that, Tom Hiddleston was amazing.
In fact, after watching him attempt to put feeling and emotion in his portrayal of Coriolanus, I was stunned. 
Perhaps I have been wrong about Coriolanus. Perhaps I should eat my words.
I think Tom Hiddleston may well be the greatest Shakespearean actor working today. He communicates the language so well, so clearly, with so much feeling, and as if it is truly his own thoughts -- and not just words that were written 400 years ago by someone else.
If you liked him in The Hollow Crown series, you will love him in this. But whereas it is easy to like the character of Prince Hal/Henry V, it is far more difficult job to make Coriolanus a sympathetic character.
And Tom Hiddleston does that. 



He makes this beast of a man so likeable, so friendly and funny. He makes you feel bad for him when he is banished from Rome for having tyrannical tendencies. He makes you feel his loneliness when he is a pariah, far from Rome. He makes you feel his rage when he decides to march on Rome. He even makes you share his bitterness towards his old friend Menenius (played to perfection by Mark Gatiss).

Mark Gatiss


When his mother, wife and son come to him and beg for him to spare Rome, I could not believe how he cried real tears, making his ‘eyes to sweat compassion.’
And he cried with so much dignity. Astonishing.
I have to admit, as much as I admired his performance, I was troubled by the fact that he is making such a monster so sympathetic. There were many women in the audience around me who swooned over him throughout the entire performance!
I don’t know how he could make evil so attractive.



His performance as Loki in the Marvel films is iconic, and he deserves great praise for the success of those films. But I predict that his work here, in Shakespeare, will one day eclipse all of his other work.
But, I really hope that Mr. Hiddleston never runs for public office. He would win in a landslide and could probably get away with murder!
The cast was excellent. I don’t want to single out anyone, but I do have to mention Deborah Findlay, who played Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother.
I doubt I will ever see a better Volumnia. Just brilliant. She really captured the arrogance of a patrician mother of Rome’s great general. This character is meant to be almost even more frightening than Coriolanus himself, and she really makes that clear in every scene.

Deborah Findlay as Volumnia


Ms. Findlay also found a way of communicating this character’s towering ego without making her completely inhuman.
At the end, her climactic speech to Coriolanus, to spare her and Rome, was just perfect.
And as much as she was emotional, I thought it was brilliant how her son, the great general, was the one doing all the crying! Ha!
The production overall was excellent. The director, Josie Rourke, emphasized the raw and simple nature of the story. The production was very simple, in the Donmar Warehouse, and it served to highlight the performances.
I can’t recommend your seeing this production highly enough.
Cheers,


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Monday, February 17, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet!

Great news!
Benedict Cumberbatch is going to play Hamlet!
It will be later this year, in London.



I missed seeing the news, but he confirmed it recently -- and you can read it about it here.
It’s very exciting that he will do some Shakespeare. It’s a dream come true for people like me. 
It is very easy to see him as Hamlet, and I am sure that his performance will surprise and delight his audience. 
I do hope that it is as rewarding an experience for him as it is for his audience, and that he will turn again to Shakespeare over and over again during his career.
There are so many roles that he is perfect for, like  Iago, Richard III, Macbeth. 
But I think he might like to explore some of the other roles that are performed less often, like Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra. It's such a fascinating play, and I could easily imagine him as a strong Roman general who is brought low by his love for Cleopatra.
I also think he would be great as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. I think he would really enjoy the comedy and it would be a chance for him to play against type.
For his Hamlet, I hope the production is not modern. I would love to see him in period costumes.
Also, I hope that the production involves the audience in some way. To truly engage the audience and make them feel like that they are part of the play is the one great truly breakthrough that could benefit any production of Shakespeare.



When you engage the audience, for any Shakespeare play, I find that actors discover humor that was not there before -- or at least had not been traditionally emphasized.
This is crucial for a tragedy like Hamlet, since the funnier and livelier Hamlet character is, the more moving and sad his story becomes. Without the comedy, the tragedy is muted.
Sir Ben Kingsley played Hamlet in 1975. He tried to be as funny as possible, and get as many laughs as he could. He also said that he tried to get as close to the audience as possible, because if he could not connect with them, then the whole production would lose out.



In any event, I am thrilled that he is playing Hamlet, and I can’t wait to see it!
Cheers, 


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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston


I recently read a brief quote from Kenneth Branagh that he would like to make a film version of Much Ado About Nothing with Tom Hiddleston, as Benedick.






I think it's a great idea.

I am always excited to see any film version of a Shakespeare play.

It would be even more exciting with Kenneth Branagh behind the camera -- and no doubt he would find a juicy role for himself, like Leonato.

And of course, after having seen Tom Hiddleston in the excellent Hollow Crown series -- I'm seeing him as Coriolanus soon -- it would spectacular to see him on screen as Benedick.


Coriolanus


As I have said before, he communicates the language of Shakespeare very well. I would think that under the direction of Branagh he would might arguably outdo his early Shakespeare performances.

My concern with such a film is that it is truly hard to reach a worldwide audience for Shakespeare now. 

The Hollow Crown series was not as successful as it should have been. Should it have chosen other plays? Should it have begun with Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello and King Lear -- in order to capture the world's attention? Who knows?

The recent film version of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon (director of Avengers starring Mr. Hiddleston of course), also was not as successful as it should have been. I don't  think it was made in order to be a blockbuster, but still, it should have been seen more. (review here)

The recent Romeo and Juliet film also was not as successful as it should have been. (review here)

There are four new adaptations of Shakespeare's plays coming out this year -- including two Macbeths!


Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender as the Macbeths


I will make a bold prediction. 

Not one of them will be successful.

I don't mean to by cynical, but the fact of the matter is that it is hard to sell Shakespeare in movie theatres.

Why is it so hard? I think it is because audiences want more than just the stories. They want to understand what the stories really mean. 

As I have written before here many times, the plays can only be solved if we present them in their original historical context. To remove them from Shakespeare's Elizabethan world is to rob them of their true impact.

The Shakespeare In Love film was successful because it gave the audience the illusion of being an authentic look at who the real Shakespeare was. Audiences believe that this is the real Shakespeare and the real meaning of Romeo and Juliet. But it is an artificial story, with unbelievably false facts, and false meaning.

Back in the 1990's, Russell Crowe was offered the role of Shakespeare in that film. He turned it down because it was so artificial. He wanted to portray the "real" Shakespeare. 

Was he wrong not to do the film? Yes because it was a huge hit, and no he was not wrong because it did not even resemble the real story of Shakespeare's life.

It was recently announced that a sequel to Shakespeare In Love will be made. I fear that it will be another artificial story that further distorts and confuses audiences about who Shakespeare really was.

For fun, I have already solved the sequel. And it will use Much Ado About Nothing to frame the movie. (read it here)

I also fear that this sequel will inspire other artists to continue to make artificial stories about Shakespeare that do nothing to serve his memory properly.

I hope that Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston do make Much Ado About Nothing. It will be a fun movie, and I will of course go and see it.






But if they are truly interested in making some Shakespeare that captures the world's attention and honors his memory, I think they are heading in the wrong direction.

What do you think?

Cheers,


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