Coriolanus blows up Bard on the Beach

The 30th Season of Bard on the Beach hosted its final opening night of the season this weekend as Coriolanus made its debut on the Howard Family Stage. Due to solid early ticket sales, Bard on the Beach has already added 7 more performances to the run, now ending September 21st.

The Company of Coriolanus photo: Tim Matheson

Quite literally fighting its way on to the stage, the drama brings battles to the Bard. One of Shakespeare’s last tragedies, Coriolanus, based on the life of Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus deals with the timeless topics of war, peace, family and politics. Dean Paul Gibson (The Winter’s Tale, 2017 and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2014) returns to the Festival to direct Bard’s first ever production of Coriolanus.

“I am honoured to be directing Coriolanus on the Howard Family Stage, featuring a female protagonist,” says director Dean Paul Gibson. “This production for me is an artistic expression of the times we live in, with the evolution of ancient stories for modern times. This is the first professional presentation of Coriolanus in Vancouver, and there couldn’t be a better time for us to present this work with a strong female lead.”

Coriolanus : Marci T. House & Moya O’Connell photo: Tim Matheson

Gibson has cast Moya O’Connell (Macbeth & Timon of Athens, 2018) as Coriolanus, who carries much of the play on her capable shoulders. The rapid fire dialogue (sometimes so fast it’s hard to keep up) and choreographed fight scenes make the role both physically and verbally taxing. Coriolanus’s mother, Volumnia, played by Colleen Wheeler holds great influence over both her daughter and Rome’s storyline. Rounding out a trifecta of powerful women, rival general Aufidius is played by Marci T. House.

Mirroring present day politics, the male characters in this production are those more concerned with retaining their power by wrapping themselves in the pretense of the good of the people and country. They turn out to be master manipulators and are able to whip citizens into a frenzy that benefits the short term but result in long term tragedy.

Gibson notes, “Flavours of past warfare, along with some very modern political maneuvering, serve to remind us that the original story, with its division, tribalism and social schisms, still resonates hundreds of years later – as if it’s been pulled from the latest news report. It proves yet again that we are drawn to repeat our transgressions with no thought of our history.”

The intimate Howard Family Stage along with Gibson’s direction brings the audience into the action as the players use all angles and levels of the theatre. Pam Johnson’s simple but effective set design along with Alan Brodie’s lighting (note: strobe lights are used often) create the high-drama required of the tragedy. Lisa Stevens and Robinson Wilson choreograph the flights to create the drama of warfare but also the fluidity of dance. Barbara Clayden’s costumes are reminiscent of a Starship Troopers-like dystopian world. The creative team and direction create an onstage civilization that’s as suitably timeless as the story itself.

Coriolanus plays on the Howard Family Stage at Bard on the Beach until September 21, 2019. For tickets and showtimes visit bardonthebeach.org

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