Coriolanus Vanishes review – shape-shifting portrait of a man on the run
Chris has an identity crisis. Played by David Leddy in his own solo show, he is never the same man twice. To his wife, he is damaged and reckless, yet worthy of her unconditional love. To his adopted son, he is all talk – promising certainty but ever liable to disappear. To his lover, he is vulnerable and small, ready to be consumed. And to his colleagues in the international arms sales business, he is the acceptable face of ethical compromise.
As Chris sees it, he is all these things and none. His restless shifting from one role to the other, like an actor trying on so many disguises, is an expression of his inability to fit in. However good the going gets, he always feels incomplete, compelled to flee. The death and violence around him, from family bereavements to terrorist atrocities, seem to be manifestations of his own psychological bad faith.
In this sense, Coriolanus Vanishes is less a drama than a diagnosis. As playwright, Leddy behaves like a psychiatrist searching for behavioural tics, only to find an unfathomable emptiness at the core. This is a modern-day world of psychopathic leaders and Saudi trade deals and, if it weren’t for the title, you’d be unlikely to think of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, even though Leddy has embedded 20 quotations from that play in his own.
You can, however, spot parallels in the way Chris is pulled between the feminine and the masculine, the way his social awkwardness could be a symptom of arrogance or honesty and the way his cold-eyed commitment to the war machine is his undoing. Like Coriolanus, Chris ricochets between the private and the public spheres and can’t reconcile the two.
Leddy’s chosen form, like a short story or radio play, is inward-looking and reflective. That makes his character study more idiosyncratic than universal, the sequence of deaths seeming less a sign of social malaise than gothic excess. The story’s tragic trajectory feels less inevitable than self-pitying and narcissistic. Chris’s soullessness is never quite our own.
Yet there’s something in the urgency of Leddy’s storytelling and in the elemental beauty of his own staging that makes it compelling. As an actor, Leddy is softly spoken and composed, his manner as sober as his pinstripe suit, his rapid-fire delivery controlled and precise. He doesn’t call for our love just our concentration.
It looks and sounds exquisite. Becky Minto’s set is no more elaborate than a desk on a raised platform, but thanks to Nich Smith’s lighting, it is in constant flux. Leddy is variously framed by the curtains in oblongs and squares, silhouetted against vibrant swathes of colour and picked out in severe horizontal beams. As the sound design by Danny Krass clicks and buzzes, he delivers his lines through a sequence of vintage and modern microphones, each with their own ambience. Whatever the literary nature of the richly written script, the presentation is entirely and beguilingly theatrical.