Radio 3 discussed the new production of Coriolanus at the Globe theatre in London this evening, with deep division between the critics whether Coriolanus is a political play or just about a blood-lust-filled man and his mother. The Daily Telegraph offers this appraisal:
Fresh blood at the Globe
Charles Spencer reviews Coriolanus at Shakespeare's Globe
Mark Rylance achieved great things during his decade at Shakespeare's Globe, above all in turning this magical place into a genuinely popular success. But there was a certain crankiness about him, too, and a roughness, or wilful perversity, about too many of the productions.
Now Dominic Dromgoole has taken over, late of the Bush Theatre and Oxford Stage Company, and a passionate Shakespearean as he reveals in his highly enjoyable new book Will and Me, which describes a lifelong obsession with the Bard.
It's a relief to welcome an artistic director to the Globe who actually believes that Shakespeare wrote the plays, as well as one who has expressed a robust distaste for excessively conceptual productions and self-advertising director's theatre. “Trust the play” appears to be Dromgoole's creed, and there is no better one when it comes to Shakespeare.
His first season looks a lively one, with Coriolanus followed by two further Roman plays, Titus Andronicus and Antony and Cleopatra, plus that infallible Shakespearean farce, The Comedy of Errors. There will also be two new plays, with Howard Brenton telling the story of Abelard and Heloise, and Simon Bent depicting the adventures of Long John Silver. The latter offers “bare flesh and filthy language”. As Peter Cook once observed in a similar context: “Don't we get enough of that sort of thing at home?”
Dromgoole leads from the front by directing Coriolanus himself, making full use of the Globe's audience in this big, public political play. The actors playing the Roman citizens are actually discovered among those standing in the yard, and when Coriolanus unwillingly and sarcastically solicits plebeian support for the consulship, he addresses the audience directly as if we held the key to his elevation. And, when Aufidius finally has Coriolanus killed, that too takes places among the groundlings, putting one in mind of the Hell's Angels murder among the crowd at the Altamont rock festival, as the Rolling Stones sang Sympathy for the Devil.
Both costumes and music in this production are authentically Jacobean, though the costumes come with Roman trimmings as they would have done in Shakespeare's day. And the action sweeps along at a fine old lick. What was really encouraging at the first night was the way the audience seemed to be hanging on to every word of the often-complex political debate, lively in its response, but never reducing the show to the level of a pantomime as has occasionally happened in the past.
Jonathan Cake, sometimes known as Jonathan Beefcake on account of his dark and rugged appearance, certainly looks the part of the proud patrician warrior Coriolanus, so useful to the Roman republic in time of war, such a liability in time of peace, with his inflammatory contempt for the plebs.
But, in the early scenes, his voice seemed surprisingly feeble, his delivery of the verse so rushed and muddled that the sense got mangled. I suspect this was a case of first-night nerves, as he grew impressively in power as the show wore on, movingly showing how this great hulk of a killing machine is also an emotionally stunted mummy's boy, desperate for maternal approval. The scene when he cracks up at the end, and finally acknowledges his emotions, is deeply moving.
Margot Leicester gives a superb performance as the manipulative matriarch, rejoicing in her son's battle injuries even as she warps his personality, and there's strong support from Robin Soans as that wiliest of politicians, Menenius, and Mo Sesay as Coriolanus's devious adversary, Tullus Aufidius.
In general, both ensemble acting and verse speaking seemed stronger than they did under Rylance, and it promises to be a highly rewarding summer at the Globe.
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