Irene Allan as Chris in Coriolanus Vanishes.
‘This Marcius is grown from man to dragon.’
Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Coriolanus
Like Shakespeare’s vengeful protagonist, after whom this play is presumably named, David Leddy’s Coriolanus Vanishes has a rather inflated view of itself. A solo piece originally written, directed and performed by Leddy, here the central performance is instead given by Irene Allan. In advance publicity, Leddy has made much of the fact that he ultimately intended his sexually-charged monologue to be gender neutral, or at least to make sense when later performed by a woman. But fussing over this device seems to have distracted Leddy from crafting a story worthy of it.
Allan is Chris, awaiting trial in prison for an as-yet unknown crime. She’s haunted by a series of deaths whose histories slowly unravel in a tangle of memories that skip backwards and forwards in time. She speaks to us of her father and mother, her wife and their adopted son, her affair with a man, and the ethical black hole that is her job, effectively a legally-sanctioned arms dealer. Leddy attempts to map questions of sexuality, abuse, self-awareness and the ethics of the global arms trade onto the shoulders of a single character.
Yet rather than a dark and disquieting meditation on these questions, Chris’ character is so over-burdened, so over-sensationalised that she reads to large extent like a caricature, like a guest on an American tabloid talk show. It’s not even that she’s morally dubious or unlikeable, it’s that she’s been created like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together from so many disparate ideas that the result is an incomprehensible mess. Leddy has weighed Chris down with so many issues that it’s all but impossible to feel disturbed or moved by the implausibility of her situation. Is it any wonder Chris can’t carry all that baggage?
There’s relief, however, in the superb sound and lighting work of Danny Krass and Nich Smith. Coriolanus Vanishes’s staging is more effective than Leddy’s script at conveying Chris’s character. Rapid shifts between different modes of illumination and amplification serve as visual and aural shorthand to her multiple facets. She’s sat at a desk, tightly wound and bisected by beams of laser light. She’s reminiscing, softened in the glow of burning matches. Sometimes she screams, undeniably present; but other times, she whispers through an old-fashioned microphone and it sounds like she’s on the other side of the world.
Ultimately, though, thoughtful staging and a mesmerising, confident performance from Allan cannot lift this flawed script trapped by an inability to transcend its own regard.
Coriolanus Vanishes is on at Traverse Theatre until 26th August 2018. Click here for more details.