Coriolanus Vanishes by David Leddy – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The first thing you notice about Coriolanus Vanishes, is the way it looks. A woman in a suit sits at a desk against a background that is a shifting field of colour. When she opens the desk drawer, a strange light emerges. Her glass glows from the inside. She illuminates herself and the audience with a fluorescence tube and lamps with shaped beams of light. The lighting, by Nich Smith, in combination with Becky Minto’s deceptively simply set, is distinctive and fascinating. However, it does not dominate, but complements Irene Allan’s one-woman performance as Chris, in prison for reasons that only eventually become apparent, after three people close to her have died.
When it premiered last year Coriolanus Vanishes was performed by its author, David Leddy. The switch to a woman is such a success that it is hard to imagine a different version, and it creates an unusual lead role in which the character’s bisexuality is not the focus. Irene Allan tells us a story, scene-by-scene, which encompasses personal and political moral conflict, the theme of private versus public examined in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. The play neatly incorporates quotes from its antecedent, but the story belongs to Irene Allan. Her character has a sweet Scottish charm which, increasingly disintegrates as she reveals her grim background and the things she has done. The writing is pin-sharp, dealing with grief, anger, addiction and death in ways that are entirely believable and, as a result, all the more terrifying. The play links Chris’s personal turmoil with her politically toxic job selling arms to the Saudis. Leddy works hard to integrate the elements of home and work that we, in the West, have the luxury of keeping separate. The production is visually stunning and driven by Irene Allan’s powerful performance. It ends with a feat of physical theatre which takes the audience completely by surprise, and leaves them open-mouthed.