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VocalEye Virtual Presentations - Coriolanus

An 1800 painting by Richard Westall of Volumnia pleading with Coriolanus not to destroy Rome

Rarely does watching a theatre production from my own couch have the ability to transport me completely to another time and place but London's National Theatre production of Coriolanus did just that. For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare's works, Coriolanus may feel like jumping into the deep end of a pool before learning to swim. For this English major, Coriolanus shines a gritty and unsympathetic light on the arrogance of self-serving politicians and the misguided supplicants who feed such dangerous egos. The play also underscores Shakespeare's prowess in creating compelling, fatally-flawed, protagonists.

Before I meander further down this path of literary introspection, I will set my own personal stage. It is June 10, 2020 and I have spent a good part of the day on buses and trains and a doctor's office wearing a face mask which, while made of pink-and-white polka-dotted jersey material and relatively comfortable, becomes a bit of a chore after the first hour. Now that I have had my dose of socially distant human contact, I can settle on my couch with sushi and join a Zoom gathering of people with vision loss eager for a taste of live theatre.

For now, I can put the pandemic of Covid 19 out of my mind.

VocalEye Descriptive Arts Society, with its mission of making arts accessible to blind and partially-sighted Canadians, has taken its endeavours online and is hosting its first virtual watch party. This production of Coriolanus will be described by our British counterparts.

During the pre-show notes, we are familiarized with a set that plunks you smack-dab into that gritty and unsympathetic world of discontented underdogs and the disdainful higher-ups that call the shots. The much-lauded Coriolanus marks out a pristine rectangle from which he speaks, carefully delineated from the graffiti-spattered walls where the hooded and hunched scrawl their grievances. Black and grey and brown will be the dominant colour scheme with an occasional pop of purple or splashes of scarlet.

As the play proceeds, my English-major mind equates Coriolanus' "Oaken Garland", described as a rough crown, with Jesus Christ's crown of thorns. As I listen to the description of water washing away the blood from Coriolanus' body, I think of holy water cleansing away sins.

But Coriolanus is set in 400BC, so it cannot be so.

However, Shakespeare wrote the play in the 1700's, so who can say?

In retrospect, I view Coriolanus, the man, as an anti-Christ, an elitist who sacrifices himself because his own purposes are not served. I feel both pity and sorrow for his mother, his wife and his son who live for him and through him. The transformation of his mother and his wife to near statues at the end of the play is both poignant and pathetic.

The acting in this National Theatre production is superb. It reminds me more of a movie than live theatre. The live description, too, is well done – unobtrusive but informative.

Thank you, VocalEye. I'm looking forward to the watch party for Macbeth on June 17, 2020.

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