Stratford Festival’s Coriolanus at the Hop: A landmark theatrical production, a US premiere and much more

Rebecca Bailey

This fall, the Hop launches a partnership with North America’s preeminent Shakespeare company, the Stratford Festival, involving the US premiere of historic and critically acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, directed by genre-defying theatermaker Robert Lepage.

Coriolanus will be presented at Dartmouth on Thursday, November 29, through Sunday, December 2, in The Moore Theater of the Hop, in four public performances and two school matinee shows (which will be seen by hundreds of Upper Valley secondary school students).

However, these performances are just the tip of the programmatic iceberg: Throughout 2018-19, the Hop will build on the Stratford Festival residency with rich programming for both the campus and community at large. This will include screenings of high-definition films of other Shakespeare plays, including those of the Stratford Festival; workshops on classical acting and multi-media production design, and public discussions on the political themes running throughout the Bard’s works. Some of these will be part of a specially curated week of elective, intensive, experiential learning opportunities for Dartmouth students offered between fall and winter terms.

This package of experiences related to the Stratford production builds on the Hop’s presentation this past June of Compagnia de’ Colombari’s innovative outdoor production of The Merchant of Venice in collaboration with the Jewish Studies department – a project also built around a major work of classical theater that provided a platform for rich discussions of timely political and social issues.


In the Stratford production, which opened at the festival on June 20, this late Shakespeare tragedy becomes a “riveting, invigorating and smart” (Globe and Mail) critique of leadership and our media-obsessed present, with Lepage’s signature high-tech storytelling underscoring powerful performances by a top-flight cast, led by André Sills in the title role. Praising the “thrilling stagecraft,” The New York Times described the production as “essentially a live film” with innovative effects “used so incessantly here, with such technical skill and in such striking combinations, as to render them newly expressive.” The raging masses are virtual: “By resetting dialogue-heavy scenes as talk radio gabfests, and representing the uninformed mob as anonymous voices on social media, Mr. Lepage helps clarify Shakespeare’s portrait of a world, like ours, overwhelmed with insincerity.”

“The transfer of this production from Stratford to Hanover is a watershed moment for the Hop,” says Hop Director Mary Lou Aleskie. “We hope to transform the way we think about theater and education. We want to use this cutting-edge work as an opportunity for year-long conversation about the political themes of the play, about how technology can enhance theatrical storytelling, and how classical theater is relevant today.”

The Dartmouth presentation of Coriolanus is thanks to the generosity of Dartmouth alumnus Dan Bernstein, immediate past chair of the Stratford Festival’s Board of Governors, and Bernstein’s wife, Claire Foerster. Bernstein’s father, Raphael, organized a similar Stratford Festival transfer in 1990. Both Stratford and the Hop regard this adventurous production as an opportunity to take much further a rich creative and educational connection made a generation ago between the two organizations.

The Stratford Festival’s production, created in collaboration with Lepage’s company, Ex Machina, marked Lepage’s directorial debut with the Stratford Festival, North America’s leading classical theatre company, described by the Globe and Mail as “an international mecca for Shakespeare.”

Lepage takes this story about the rise and fall of a legendary general who faces the angry Roman mob and infuses it with the energy of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, setting it in our media-obsessed present. Employing technologically sophisticated stagecraft to frame superb acting by a veteran Stratford cast, the production evokes an epic film, with projections and an iris effect enhancing the cinematic feel. The innovative staging and design underscore the text’s emotional complexities.

“This production has been carefully crafted using advanced technology in terms of scene changes, projections and the marrying of images on moving scenery,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “While it is imbued with a leading-edge, contemporary style, it never loses touch with its Shakespearean roots.”

Critics have raved. This “electric world premiere Stratford Festival production makes [Coriolanus] seem like an essential part of the canon,” writes the Ontario arts weekly NOW. “In an era in which public figures can be brought down by a tweet, this production is timely and urgent. Don’t miss one of the best shows of the year.”

Writes the Toronto Star: “Rarely has Lepage’s reputation as a cinematic theatremaker been more earned: The action moves cleanly between locations, thanks to textual cuts and edits, and the world-class design and production team delivers effects that should be impossible in a stage context.”

The Globe and Mail called the show “a landmark production for the Stratford Festival. Maybe for William Shakespeare, too. [Lepage] takes this complex Roman tragedy and refuses to simplify it—instead, rendering a clear and cinematic version that’s riveting, invigorating and smart.”

 

 

 

“This production has been carefully crafted using advanced technology in terms of scene changes, projections and the marrying of images on moving scenery.” Antoni Cimolino