The Department of Theatre at The University of Southern Mississippi hosted Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” on Feb. 24 and 25 making this the department’s fifth National Theatre Live broadcast since they began showings in 2013.
The play is set in London’s Donmar Warehouse, a critically acclaimed theater that was once a banana-ripening depot in the early 1920s according to nationaltheatre.org. Although “Coriolanus” is a lesser known Shakespearean piece, director Rosie Rourke admits in a live interview at the play’s intermission that tickets sold out on the first day.
Southern Miss professor Monica Haynes, who has worked extensively with British theater, gives some insight as to why audience members might be interested in “Coriolanus” apart from seeing famous actors like Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss.
“The Donmar Warehouse is an excellent theatre and this is an excellent cast,” Haynes said. “Every generation favors the plays that speak to their time. With the right production choices, all of Shakespeare’s plays are timeless and universally relevant. Our task as artists is to find that connection between the play and our audience now.”
That connection is solidified through the character of Coriolanus, a fierce warrior who comes home and is praised by the people of Rome but is then expected to be a political figure. Instead he is true to his humble nature and therefore sentenced to exile.
Tom Hiddleston, who plays Coriolanus, said his character dramatizes a conflict at the heart of every public figure, which that of a private war between personal integrity and popularity.
While keeping its original Shakespearean dialogue, the play creatively combines modern and ancient Roman elements. Most of the actors wore jeans and hoodies accented by gold pendants, gauntlets and leather boots. Scene changes were set to cyber-techno background music and laser lights.
“The play’s combination of props and music was very innovative,” said Cole Stadalis, an audience member. “They were able to take a small empty space and transform it into a scene in an almost minimalistic style. The way in which they did so made me appreciate the acting much more.”
Despite some debate as to whether or not broadcasts on a projector screen are true to the nature of live theater, Haynes speaks positively of NTL for offering everyone a chance to enjoy high-caliber productions such as “Coriolanus.”
“We are remote from professional theater here in south Mississippi,” Haynes said. “Very few students in our program can afford to go to New York or London to see professional theater live in person. This is an extraordinary opportunity for our majors and our community to experience professional theater in an affordable and accessible way.”
The next theater performance at USM will be “Picnic” by William Igne at the Hartwig Theatre. Show dates are March 28, 29 and April 3, 4, 5 at 7:30 p.m. and March 30 at 2 p.m. General admission is $8.