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The Tragedy of Coriolanus

Edinburgh Playhouse
four stars
If ever there was a sound more perfectly suited to Shakespeare's 
high-ranking tragedy of power and glory involving a Roman warlord who 
can't accept the will of the common people, it is the pomp and little 
circumstance of heavy metal. Such potential for a bombastic borderline 
fascist rally is something which iconoclastic Chinese director Lin 
Zhaohua clearly recognised for this epic reading of Coriolanus for the 
Beijing People's Art Theatre, which puts Chinese rock bands Miserable 
Faith and Suffocated either side of a stage that houses a multitude of 
bamboo spear wielding extras who make up the Roman hordes.

Chinese superstar Pu Cunxin struts the stage in a flowing cape and 
chest-plate as Martius, who is granted the title of Coriolanus after 
waging war successfully on the Volsces, led by the scheming Aufidius. 
This makes for a stunning series of set-pieces, which finds assorted 
noblemen picking up microphones and raging at the world like rappers on 
heat at a soundclash. Coriolanus himself high-fives his people, a 
hero-worshipped warlord who refuses to sell-out to popular forces, 
while at one point a gleeful senate do a jig to a jaunty bossa nova 
number.

Beyond all this, the play, performed in Mandarin, is remarkably intact, 
even if it is rendered in a gloriously one-dimensional and surprisingly 
light-hearted style. Like all despots, however, Coriolanus does what 
his mother tells him, and his late-blooming bromance with Alfidius 
comes to a sticky end. The two bands assorted fanfares and flourish 
which either book-end or underscore the action is actually not that far 
removed from traditional Chinese music, the only difference here being 
that it's put through Marshall amps and cranked up really high.

The Herald, August 21st 2013

ends





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