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A CurtainUp London London Review

Oh he is wounded - I thank the gods for it!
---- Volumnia
Margot Leicester as Volumnia and Jonathan Cake as Coriolanus
(Photo: John Haynes)
Dominic Dromgoole opens his artistic directorship with Coriolanus, never before staged at the Globe as part of The Edges of Rome season. Ambitiously, Dromgoole has chosen a fairly straightforward, traditional presentation of a challenging play in the Globe's fascinating but unwieldy theatrical space. The drama's strong military and political emphasis means that its Roman milieu can seem harsh and unsympathetic in many ways. There are brutal realities of public life with an increasingly powerful yet capricious mob, controlled by scheming tribunes. In the meantime, the city's most courageous protector fails to adapt to the plebeians' demand for recognition and threatens to use his great strength against his own beloved Rome.

It is easy to see why Dromgoole selected Coriolanus. The visible, unavoidable audience who crowd the stage provide a perfect setting for a play about the interaction of the masses and the eminent few. Deconstructing the barrier between the players and the audience, the plebeian characters use the groundlings as an extension to the stage. They also seamlessly interweave the necessary theatrical announcements regarding mobile phones, photography and intervals with the Shakespearean text. Furthermore, Coriolanus' humiliating appeal to the people to guarantee his consulship is directed at individual audience members as much as at actors.

The brawny physique of Jonathan Cake is very well-suited to the part of the Achillean hero Coriolanus. In a fine performance of strong integrity, Cake recreates the role convincingly but perhaps not brilliantly. As the performance wore on he grew in stature. He was also very strong at portraying the ambivalence of a hero whose strength and military success spring from the very same characteristics as his tragically hubristic flaws. Working alone on the battlefield to stunningly heroic effect, his proud self-sufficiency also prevents him fawning upon the plebeians to secure political power.

Margot Leicester was excellent as Coriolanus' "Juno-like" mother Volumnia. Wielding ultimate sway over her otherwise unswayable son, she reduces the single-handed saviour of the Roman state to an adolescent boy, resentfully complying with his parent's demands.

The rest of the cast worked well on the problematic 17th century style stage. In particular, Mo Sesay was superb as Aufidius, Coriolanus' arch-enemy turned comrade and Jane Murphy as Coriolanus' wife Vergilia provided the only soft, feminine, if downtrodden, voice in this very masculine play. Also, the teenage school parties very much appreciated Joseph Marcell as Cominius, known to them from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!

The director injects a fair amount of comedy which varies the tone without undermining the play's sincerity. Moreover, Coriolanus' bloody head wound and gruesomely covered sword presages an enjoyably gory Titus Andronicus. In all, it is difficult not to feel that this is a well-acted, decent production. However, running at just over three hours, the discomfort of the historically accurate theatre starts to affect the audience's concentration and enjoyment.

Dominic Dromgoole is a vastly-talented director and gets strong performances from his cast. Nevertheless, the Globe is a restrictive and challenging, although very special space. Hopefully, as the season wears on, he will adapt to the restrictions and challenges of this unique theatre and fulfil the promise hinted at with this inaugural production.

Editor's Note: For reviews of other productions of this play see our Shakespeare Quotations Page.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Starring: Jonathan Cake, Margot Leicester
With: Andrew Vincent, John Dougall, Trevor Fox, Paul Rider, Richard Butler, Garry Collins, Matthew Dunphy, Akiya Henry, Andrew Vincent, Howard Ward, Joseph Marcell, Ciaran McIntyre, Robin Soans, Trevor Martin, Frank McCusker, Jane Murphy, Mo Sesay
Design: Mike Britton
Choreography: Siân Williams
Composer and Music Director: William Lyons
Movement: Glynn MacDonald
Running time: Three hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 24th August 2006
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 10th May 2006 performance at Shakespeare's Globe, New Globe Walk, London SE1 (Tube: London Bridge or Mansion House and across the Millennium Bridge)
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