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17 April 2009 @ 09:43 pm
Hee! I am delighted to see this community. I became a big fan of William Houston in 2007, when I was lucky enough to see his Coriolanus. I even set up a facebook group for him - which a couple of his friends joined! (I felt somewhat embarrassed...) Nice to see the love has spread to livejournal, as for a while I was the only person to have "william houston" listed as an interest.

Here's a bit of my lj review from back then...

Oh. Dear. God. I have just had one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. The Royal Shakespeare Company's Coriolanus at Newcastle, starring William Houston and Timothy West. Holy crap. It was mindblowing. The last time I can remember being so amazed by theatre was watching Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Interestingly, the two things the shows had in common were the extraordinary male relationships at the centre. I have people on my friends list who ship Hamlet/Horatio, which I can kind of see but really isn't my thing, but I'm telling you, people, Coriolanus/Aufidius isn't just subtext, it's canon and it was amazing.

I didn't even go to the theatre with that high expectations. Coriolanus isn't even a play I know particularly well, and I'd never seen it performed. I largely went because Hartley was super keen, and I thought it'd be a fun thing to do together. My expectations were completely surpassed to an almost ridiculous level, and that was all down to the astonishing performance put in by William Houston.

He had extraordinary presence. From the first moment he swaggered in and spoke in the amazingly gravelly voice he had developed for Coriolanus, I was transfixed. He's not a big guy at all - in fact, he's quite small, and very wiry - and is pretty average looking, but he was ridiculously charismatic and deeply sexy. Coriolanus is a really difficult part - patrician snob, mighty warrior, monster and hero - and he managed each facet of his character beautifully. I never felt he put a step wrong, not once. He was funny and frightening and commanding and cold and hot and angry in all the right places. Wow wow wow.

His chemistry with Trevor White as Aufidius was also incredibly compelling. Hartley and I talked about this in depth on the train. It wasn't just a thing about eye candy, though of course there's something appealing about watching two half naked men fight. They just had this incredibly charged and interesting relationship. In their first fight on stage, they first fought, very violently, with sword and axe, but then they threw down their weapons and fought hand to hand, wrestling and trying to choke each other to death. It was horrible and yet very exciting, and there was definitely a sexual element to it, but nothing seductive. The energy they had between them was of hatred but also a very fierce, very male sexual desire. A bit later on, there's this bit where Coriolanus asks a friend if Aufidius has said anything about him, and the answer is that Aufidius hates him more than anyone else in the world, and Coriolanus is delighted. He wants to know that Aufidius is consumed by thoughts of him, and the more violent those thoughts the better.

Then there's the amazing bit where Coriolanus, cast out of Rome, goes to the Volscians. He approaches Aufidius and reveals himself and says he will join the Volscians, or that Aufidius can slit his throat, because if anyone is going to kill him, it should be him. He's not there as a supplicant at all. He offers his service, or he wants his death, and he knows who should give it to him. He kneels but he's not humble. Then Aufidius kneels also and takes him by the waist and the neck and makes this very very intense speech.

Let me twine
Mine arms about that body, where against
My grained ash an hundred times hath broke
And scarr'd the moon with splinters: here I clip
The anvil of my sword, and do contest
As hotly and as nobly with thy love
As ever in ambitious strength I did
Contend against thy valour. Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold. Why, thou Mars! I tell thee,
We have a power on foot; and I had purpose
Once more to hew thy target from thy brawn,
Or lose mine arm fort: thou hast beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat,
And waked half dead with nothing. Worthy Marcius,
Had we no quarrel else to Rome, but that
Thou art thence banish'd, we would muster all
From twelve to seventy, and pouring war
Into the bowels of ungrateful Rome,
Like a bold flood o'er-bear...

I mean, what? Is that not the most violently erotic thing ever? He says he is more excited by Coriolanus than he was by his own wedding night. And that he has dreamed of the violence they could do to each other. This was all delivered with Aufidius holding Coriolanus in this very male way, and at the end of the speech he kissed him. As Hartley pointed out, it was a very masculine kiss, in a heroic-male sort of way. There was no hesitation, and it wasn't like the speech had been the build up or a preparation. The kiss was just the natural and expected conclusion. And Coriolanus did not seem surprised by any of Aufidius' revelations. It was just expected and wanted. Oh, man. It was amazing. *wipes brow*

Then, of course, Aufidius has to end up killing Coriolanus. I do think they slipped up slightly in the staging of this, because they had a brilliant thing where Coriolanus grabs the end of Aufidius' sword and basically forces Aufidius to stab him. It should have been this amazing moment of completion for the both of them, followed by horror, but Aufidius mostly had his back to the audience and so whilst we could see Coriolanus was looking at him, we couldn't get so much of a sense of their looking at one another. But when Aufidius held Coriolanus' body at the end it was still beautiful. Their very strange relationship had to end in death; it was doomed to do so. But you can't help feeling that there's nowhere for Aufidius to go after this; after this strange relationship-friendship-enmity, what on earth can compare in intensity?

There were some other really good performances. Timothy West as Menenius was fantastic. Very subtle, getting loads of nuance into his performance. The part where he is rejected by Coriolanus, who is essentially his son, was heartbreaking. He was so hurt and so dignified. Coriolanus' mother was also brilliant - so tough and terrifying and loving in her own way, and Coriolanus was such a mummy's boy whilst still remaining himself. The bit where he decides to pardon Rome because of her plea was just amazing, not so much for what he said, but what he didn't. Houston held the silence for a really long time. He clutched Janet Suzman's arm and just looked at her, swallowing on words, barely able to speak, and when at last he said "mother" his voice was so choked... It was amazing. It could be easy to do that scene terribly, making the monster have a mawkishly sentimental moment, but this all seemed perfectly in character.

I really wish I could see that again. It was extraordinary.

The press agreed with me:

"It's hard to imagine a more thrillingly dangerous performer than William Houston on the English stage today... Houston is thrillingly dangerous on stage, scorching like a blast of dragon's breath, and always psychologically complex. He is charismatic, spontaneous yet mesmerisingly reined in too, assured in both his verse-speaking and in sinewy, whirling battle scenes. With red wavy hair, feral amber eyes, a punched-flat nose and a wide mouth, it's like being faced with a flickering chimera: he resembles a lion one minute, an adder the next, a killer chimp, a jackal." - The Independent, March 2007

"Many recently have described Houston as the new Olivier. I agree, but only in one respect, that, like Olivier, Houston has set a new standard by which all other actors will now be judged. One cannot liken him to Olivier - as Olivier could not be likened to anyone else - because he’s an original that other actors, from this moment onward, will be compared against, and not only in style, but in vivaciousness and energy, and in his ability to scare the pants off us, and then make us laugh, but mostly to believe in him completely, and by so doing believe in the character, and consequently the story, the narration. William Houston has changed the English stage." - Stratford Report, March 2007.

After seeing this, I immediately bought the Hamlet that's screencapped here! Unfortunately I thought it was one of the most dreadful productions of Shakespeare I had ever seen... But William struggled on manfully, and given the terrible quality of everything else around him I thought he did pretty well. (Apologies to anyone who was a fan of that version!) I've seen him in a few things on TV, including North and South, but it does seem like the stage is the place he really shines... I hope to see more of him in future!

ETA: Ah, it seems you already saw those reviews, as they are linked in the sidebar! :)
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