Director Angus Jackson tells us more about his plans for Coriolanus.
You’ve been overseeing the 2017 Rome season in Stratford-upon-Avon – how does Coriolanus fit into the season and your vision as a whole?
Coriolanus was the last of the plays to be written and is the last in the season. The first three have been through-designed, so each builds on the one before - the Rome of Antony and Cleopatra is the Rome of Julius Caesar grown bigger, and in Titus Andronicus the same pillars are glassed in, in a modern dress production. We are going to set Coriolanus as the next step forward in time, where privilege and poverty have survived inside Rome, but now there's famine and in-fighting, as well as war with their neighbours. It's a play about class divide and about messy wars, which feels great to put in a "what if…" modern-day production.
Coriolanus is rarely performed – why is a revival important in 2017?
It's rarely performed but it is an absolutely brilliant play. The lead man, Coriolanus, is a complicated hero, not obviously likeable at the start. But we live in complicated times, where leaders shift in a way we don't expect them to and when, as in Coriolanus, the population vote for something that is far from in their best interests.
What are your plans for the design?
Well I don't want to give it away! It's a world, just in the future, where the pillars of Rome have given way and crumbled and metal dominates the landscape. It's also all about walls that protect you and divide you, and we are lucky enough to be able to do that with a bit of scale.
What do you think will resonate with young people about the show?
Our Coriolanus is a young man who is strong-headed and powerful but the old guard, including his mother, have a very clear idea of what he should be doing. It's very funny watching the negotiations. And the generational divide is equally matched by the divide of haves and have-nots: it's thrilling to watch conflicts we know only too well played out on a Shakespearean stage.
What are your thoughts about Coriolanus as a character?
He's more akin to a prize athlete or a rockstar than what we might think of as a soldier. He's a high-born incredibly gifted individual who isn't popular because he's so proud. But then it's as if he returns from the Olympics with twelve gold medals, becomes an overnight sensation and goes into politics…
There is some cross-gender casting in your production – why did you decide to do this?
The Tribunes in Rome are elected from the people to represent the people, whereas the other senators are born into privileged classes, so Volumnia is a woman who has a lot of power without holding office, because of who she is. We thought if you are going to elect someone to represent you right now it's just as likely, if not more likely, to be a woman, so we are casting both Tribunes as women, catapulted into political life from their non-entitled backgrounds because they are the people's choice, and set against generations of privilege.
Coriolanus plays for a limited run in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 15 September - 14 October, then transfers to the Barbican, London.