There are protests on the streets, people are starving, and everybody's looking for some scapegoat to blame at the opening of Gareth Nicholls' production of Shakespeare's war-time tragedy, performed here by the RCS' second year BA Acting students. There are chair-bound insurgents, too, who are happy to snipe from the sidelines, wolfing down popcorn as the spectacle is played out, before they too are driven to take direct action.
In one of his most overtly political plays, Shakespeare's fable about a military man who is persuaded into politics by his mother couldn't be more pertinent right now. Seriously out of his depth and prone to headstrong rages and random attacks, Coriolanus treats the common people he is there to serve with contempt, and his reign can't help but be doomed from the start. Even the people's suited and booted tribunes see it coming.
This is an action play as much as a political one, as Nicholls recognises by setting the tough-guy sparring on designer Alisa Kalyanova's dimly-lit landscape of barren top-soil in the RCS' Chandler Studio space. Jack Simpson's Coriolanus is from common stock, a gobby firebrand who's as happy to scoff a Pot Noodle while his Ma' Volumnia tells him what for as he is to slug it out on the frontline with his nemesis turned unlikely ally Aufidius.
This makes for a production that is full of strident confrontation, but which retains a thoughtful intelligence that never takes sides. As the common people sit back and slumber into complacency once more, the death of a tyrant becomes one more public sideshow to snack on as the world collapses around them.
The Herald, January 30th 2017