Major Project · Semester Two

The Limitations of Coriolanus

Figure 1.1 Shown above – some photographs capturing the play Coriolanus, a production by the Donmar Warehouse, and directed by Josie Rourke)

The production of Coriolanus (based on the work of William Shakespeare) was a play that I had been very interested in viewing since late 2013 – other than the obvious motivation of Tom Hiddleston as the lead, Caius Marcius, and the presence of other well-known actors such as Mark Gatiss – the production occurred during a time when I was reminiscent regarding my decision not to pursue English Literature onto key stage five, and my lack of appreciation for the text at the time.

However, the decision led me to the opportunity to watch the play through the National Theatre Live broadcasts in the QFT the following year. Two years later, I am able to utilise the information that I had retained from that experience as it has suddenly become applicable to the current project.

During the introduction to Coriolanus, the cast members and stage staff discussed the historical influences and the creative decisions that were chosen to depict the story of Caius Marius within the venue of the Donmar Warehouse – a building with a history as a banana ripening factory within the historical streets of London.

The physical space within the venue is the unique selling point of the production, and brought an unusual complication to the set designers – how to tell the story within the limits of the boundary of the stage.

(Figure 1.2 Shown above – the exact diameter of the stage that the Donmar Warehouse used for the production of Coriolanus) 

Lucy Osborne, the set and costume designer for the play, discusses the restrictions of prop use and design to capture a certain tone that is representative of Rome at the time. The video posted below contains a segment that discusses this information in greater detail, and provides some rationale as to why specific decisions were made in order to establish an underlying tone of tension throughout the entirety of the play.

Figure 1.3 Shown above – discussion of the Donmar Warehouse as the venue for Coriolanus. Time allocation is 4:10-6:46.

The interview addresses a topic that I discussed in a previous research post located here – utilising the space that the audience watches the story unfold. Whilst each production venue is unique, there is a distinct difference between the square-shaped stage of the Donmar Warehouse and the rectangular space of the Royal National Theatre. The positioning of the audience within these spaces is important also, as the perception of the play can be influenced by the location from which it is being viewed.

The Royal National Theatre stage is located at the front of the space, with the auditorium designed towards that direction in order to position each section to have a clear view of the play. In contrast, the Donmar Warehouse has its stage situated in amongst the seats and the balconies, utilising that one hundred and eighty degree space as a unique element within the set design. The consequence is that staging is limited, as it might obscure the view from the audience if large pieces of the set were positioned at specific angles.

maxresdefaultFigure 1.4 Shown above – a transition scene created using visual projection to create the illusion of transformation.

The limited staging encourages the set designer to identify the key elements that are needed in order to depict the story and use that as the foundation through which the rest of the scene can be measured. For the animated documentary, it is my opinion that this is where the challenge shall present itself.

The premise of the documentary is the story of Zara the dog, explored through the experience of Attracta, Jess’ grandmother. I discuss the importance incorporating environment within animation in this post. However, those decisions have been influenced by my research into the use of limited staging. At the current moment, the challenge that is causing concern is the ability to successfully incorporate the use of negative space around the subject area.

In Coriolanus, the spatial restrictions and limited use of props have been chosen in such a way that enables the audience to comprehend the visual queues and apply that towards their understanding of the narrative story that is unravelling before them. The animated documentary could benefit from utilising a similar technique – the theme of the documentary is memories and the realisation that they are fragmented and uncertain, susceptible to influences such as emotion and circumstance. The idealism is that by implementing a similar methodology to that used in theatre design, the interpretation should strengthen the execution of that concept.


Coriolanus (2013). Play. Directed by Josie Rouke. London: Donmar Warehouse.

Donmar Warehouse, (2017). Coriolanus. Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2017].

Donmar Warehouse. (2014). [image] Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2017].

Donmar Warehouse. (2014). [image] Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2017].


3 thoughts on “The Limitations of Coriolanus

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