The first production under Dominic Dromgoole’s reign as artistic director, and the first production in the "Edges of Rome" season: Coriolanus is a play made for the expanse of the Globe, where the groundlings crowd the stage. It’s a piece that’s dominated by mobs, a play that, even more than Julius Caesar, depends for its plot shifts on the power of mob rule.
It’s disappointing then that Dromgoole’s production doesn’t draw on one of the great strengths of this theatre: the ready-made crowd. It’s true that the Roman citizens (all eight of them) make their first appearance from the depths of the groundlings, but the audience remains an under-used asset.
The stage causes problems in other ways too. The background noise and the acoustics could defeat many an actor and the production gets off to an uncertain start. There are some garbled speeches, words lost in the breeze or drowned out by aircraft noise. This is frequently a problem at this theatre, but it particularly affects this production – although, on press night, things improved during the course of the evening. Unfortunately, the first stirrings of the Roman crowd and Menenius’s great set-piece speech about the human body are almost lost.
But the biggest problem with the production is Jonathan Cake’s Coriolanus, who, right from the start, struggles to make an impression. His opening few speeches are rattled off as if he's in a desperate hurry to get home to see who won The Apprentice.
He does quickly calm down, but the problems don't stop there. Coriolanus is a man who combines an almost fanatical love for fighting with the ability to win a sneering contest with Ozymandias. Cake clearly demonstrates neither attribute and instead seems more like a sulky boy, stamping his feet when unable to get his way, and visibly weakening when chided by his mother, Volumnia, an impressive Margot Leicester.
There’s little sense too of his bellicosity: the storming of the gates of Corioles is carried out with such little verve that it’s almost as if he was walking in – there’s some uninspired fight direction too – who’d have thought that these armies hated each other with intensity?
Apart from Leicester, only Frank McCusker and John Dougall as the manipulating tribunes and Robin Soans’ Menenius stood. It was a shame they couldn’t have a more worthwhile opponent, a Coriolanus worthy of their attention.
This was a disappointing opening to a new era of the Globe. Coriolanus is, or should be, a gripping political drama. The gaps in the audience by the end of the evening told its own story.
- Maxwell Cooter