Coriolanus NT Live Encore


Josie Rourke, artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, speaking at Lighthouse before the screening of  Coriolanus.         Photo: Hattie Miles

Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke helps Poole’s Lighthouse launch public fundraising programme

By Jeremy Miles

To contain Shakespeare’s epic Roman bloodbath Coriolanus on a small stage with just 14 actors was a brave move indeed. After painstakingly paring back the sprawling drama to focus on its essence, director Josie Rourke pulled it off with aplomb. Despite a few inevitable gripes from purists, her now famous “chamber production” at the Donmar Warehouse proved a triumph.

Happily for all those unable to see it at the 250 seat theatre during its celebrated run, Rourke’s production lives on. With Tom Hiddleston - a rising star of both stage and screen - at its centre, it proved a no-brainer to film the production for one of the popular NT Live broadcasts. It was subsequently beamed into cinemas and arts centres nationwide. But that was nearly two years ago and of course if there is one significant  problem with live theatre it is simply that, however brilliant or sensational it may be, it rarely has a long shelf-life.

No worries though. Someone dreamed up the idea of Encore screenings. So it was that Rourke’s Coriolanus - filmed nearly two years ago - arrived at Lighthouse in Poole last night with the additional attraction of Josie Rourke herself on hand to give a 50 minute pre-screening talk and Q&A session with the audience. A treat indeed and all part of a special evening during the early part of which three rows of the Coriolanus audience had attended the launch of the Love Lighthouse appeal - the final push for the arts centre’s radical and exciting multi-million pound refurbishment programme. 

Even though Lighthouse needs updating it does remarkably well but a quarter-of-a-million visitors a year have taken their toll and despite a major facelift and rebrand 13 years ago there are some facilities that haven’t changed since it first opened as Poole Arts Centre in 1978. Not only is much of the fabric of the building a bit battered and shabby but CEO Elspeth McBain revealed that the Lighthouse tap water is actually undrinkable. New plumbing is urgently required. 

 Next year will see Lighthouse unveil not only a new look but state-of-the-art facilities. There is already £5 million worth of funding in place. It now needs a final £400,000 to achieve plans that will make it one of the finest cutting-edge, state-of-the art venues for theatre, music, film, literature and performing arts in the provinces. The message was simple: Please help us. Every donation, small or large, can help us achieve our aim of continuing to present an eclectic range of the highest quality performances in a fully up-to-date venue. 

Plans include renovating dressing rooms, creating a new green room, providing a modern rehearsal space, better lighting, new PA and climate control systems, enhanced conference facilities, improved wheelchair access and of course that new water system. The management team also says it is committed to eliminating waste and reducing the venue’s environmental impact by smart-zoning the building to control energy use and introducing photovoltaics to generate its own electricity. 

The screening of the NT Live Encore edition of Coriolanus was an indication of how Lighthouse already has friends in influential places. Locally based benefactors Clive and Sally Sherling have already helped provide a new studio space that will bear their names. The couple, well known movers and shakers on the London theatre scene, were also instrumental in making the introduction to the Donmar Warehouse and its inspirational artistic director.

 Josie Rourke not only gave the audience a fascinating insight into the creative process behind the Donmar production of Coriolanus but also leant her artistic weight to the Love Lighthouse campaign. She urged people to make donations and, drawing on memories of growing up in a less enlightened than now Salford in the 1980s, spoke of the importance of access to serious arts outside the capital and the joys of  enabling home-grown talent to produce first rate work in the  provinces.

Coriolanus itself was a revelation. Cut back to just under two-and-a-half hours, it was a fast moving and intense reading of Shakespeare’s epic study of a brilliant but complex man, a brave warrior destroyed by his own wanton, headstrong arrogance. Hiddleston, still in his very early 30s when the play was filmed, was brilliant in this physically and intellectually demanding role which is so often played by an older actor.

As Rourke explained there is no logic behind getting more mature actors to play Coriolanus. It’s just become a convention, like making Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night ( her favourite Shakespeare play) old and fat. Such descriptions were never applied to these characters by Shakespeare himself.

Tom Hiddleston took ownership of the role within moments of appearing on the stage. An excellent cast and stark staging using chairs, ladders, and what seemed like several buckets of theatrical blood, created the suitably tense atmosphere against which we watched the newly titled Coriolanus squander his chance to become champion of the people and the stubborness and regret-tinged pride that finally costs him is life.  Other stand-out performances came from Mark Gatis as the rejected mentor Menenius and Deborah Findlay as Coriolanus’s exasperated, manipulative but admiring mother Volumnia. 

© Jeremy Miles 2022