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 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
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.