Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Coriolanus - Shakespeare's Globe 2006

Shakespeare's Globe, London, UK.

Directed by new Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole, Coriolanus is the first play in the Globe’s ‘The Edges of Rome’ season. For this season the Globe sees the addition, above the main stage, of a gilt Roma skyline, with the Coliseum standing out as the centrepiece.

The performance starts with players in the Yard, amongst the audience. The message here is clear: we are also citizens; we are involved in the action that is about to take place. This is a tightly constructed performance, with actors doubling up on parts and very little in the way of set or props to distract us from the action. The play itself is heavy on words, without the twists and turns of some of Shakespeare’s other works, which keep the eyes as well as the ears interested. To combat this, the action is spread around the theatre, with the stage extended by trestles on either side, and the players using these to keep the eyes of the audience alert and moving. The costuming is an Elizabethan-Roman hybrid which gives us a sense of when the play comes from as well as where it is set.

Jonathan Cake is a rugged and intense Coriolanus. He delivers his lines fiercely (if occasionally a little fast) but also knows how to wring a laugh from the audience at the appropriate moments. Admirably supported by the sturdy Cominius (Joseph Marcell) and the worthy Menenius (Robin Soans), Cake charges through this play with fearsome force. Volumnia (Margot Leicester) is a mother to be reckoned with, and we see where Coriolanus gets his vigour. Leicester is both light relief and potent pleader, bringing more than just Coriolanus to tears.

The death scene of Coriolanus is beautifully executed. Set upon from behind and stabbed in the back, Coriolanus teeters on the edge of the stage before falling forward into the audience, to be caught and lowered to the ground by the Citizens surreptitiously placed there. Aufidius then plucks out his heart and holds it up for all to see. The use of space in this instance is quite brave. Once Coriolanus has fallen from the stage, he is surrounded by the audience packed into the standing-space of the Globe Yard, and is effectively lost to sight. The fall itself evoked a huge ‘Oh’ from the audience, but this was then followed by scattered laughter as the heart was held up. I’m not sure whether this was the misplaced laughter of tension, or evidence that this attempt at a scene of pure horror had somehow missed the mark. As Aufidius repents his rage, a huge sheet of black silk is dragged onto the stage and out across the Yard audience, covering all heads, and bearing away the body of Coriolanus. Thus ends this solemn scene. However, because the Globe likes to end a performance on a high note, the actors then take to the stage and perform a merry dance, cheered on by the rhythmic applause of the audience. 

This is a worthy and enjoyable production, which really gets to the heart of this political play.

This review was originally published on The Shakespeare Revue.

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