The opening moments of Beijing People’s Art Theatre’s production of The Tragedy of Coriolanus are monumental.
The understandably stripped-back stage is filled with an angry mob of around forty stick-rattling citizens whilst Chinese death metal band Suffocated storm out and piledrive into a short, sharp shock of sound.
Had this admittedly epic production continued in this vein, it would have been essential. However, the initial facemelting soon gives way to something a little less vital — and a lot more bombastic — whilst the electric guitar accompaniment veers uncomfortably close in places to Spinal Tap territory.
The Tragedy of Coriolanus is not without high points however. Acting is in the main impressive, with Pu Cunxin’s titular hero a suitably statuesque and immovable force of militaristic pride amidst the machinations of the political might of Rome.
And — when they are let out of their cages proper — Suffocated and Miserable Faith are axe-shredders of the highest order. Indeed, one of the most memorable sequences is immediately after the interval, when the two groups spar in a literal battle of the bands, a performance infused with much more energy than the strangely stilted fight scenes of the play itself.
Shakespeare’s work is a wordy, masculine beast, and the scarcity of prominent female characters is no fault of tonight’s cast or director. It does give the piece a certain lack of emotion however, which the addition of the testosterone-heavy music only serves to heighten.
Whilst the spectacle of the piece is undeniable, The Tragedy of Coriolanus ends up being too like its hero — a massive single-minded colossus, but one which could benefit from a little more passion.
The Tragedy of Coriolanus was at the Edinburgh Playhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival