Review: Coriolanus Vanishes at the Traverse Theatre

A flawless performance by Irene Allan brings fervent life to David Leddy’s polemic on the mental health of individuals and governments in this new staging of Coriolanus Vanishes.

By turns sweet and doting, sensual and provocative, and growling and possessed, Allan’s Chris is utterly mesmerising. In a show where the incredible lighting design by Nich Smith could easily upstage the performer, Allan is assured and astonishing.

If there are not enough superlatives to be bestowed upon Allan, credit must also be given to Leddy, who consistently proves himself to be one of the best theatre-makers working in Scotland today. His script looks at the roots of mental ill-health with a raw honesty that cuts deeply into the damaged parts of our psyches. Chris, a sales manager for an arms company selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, is a slick operator with a barely-concealed mountain of neuroses and a justification for everything – until she crosses a line even she can’t excuse away.

In the original performance of Coriolanus Vanishes, Leddy played Chris, but he wrote it with the intention of the role being genderless. With that in mind, it’s fascinating to notice the moments throughout where a female performer provokes a very different reaction to that of a male performer. There is privilege at play here, a sense of protectiveness and forgiveness that seems to come naturally when watching a woman struggle, and which would have to be earned by a man. This adds richness and complexity to the role and the relationship with the audience – we want Chris to learn and to make the right decisions, even while giving her the benefit of the doubt until her actions become unforgivable.

There are moments when the pace ratchets up to the frantic, and one wishes for a few minutes to breathe in a scene instead of watching Allan run from one setting to the next. This understandably reflects Chris’ own manic state, but can provoke disassociation rather than the intended intensity.  However, these minor complaints are vastly outweighed by the sheer virtuosity on display here. Coriolanus Vanishes is a must-see.

Coriolanus Vanishes, Traverse, 3-26 Aug (not 6, 13, 20), times vary

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