If ever an actor seemed born to play the warrior it is William Houston, whose acclaimed performance as Sejanus last year seems, in retrospect, to be a dry run for his role here. Typically Houston offers a mixture of fire and ice, a nervy febrile energy governed by cold intellect. Here, by contrast, Coriolanus is at the mercy of his passions, helpless amid his foes' political machinations. He is at his best in capturing Coriolanus' boyish glee at the prospect of battle - as when, on hearing the clash of arms, he cries gleefully: "Oh, they're at it".
But for a production which promised so much - it is as star-studded as the RSC gets these days - one is left, ultimately, disappointed. There are some fine scenes and strong performances, notably from Timothy West as a testy Meninius, but the production doesn't get to the heart of the play. Coriolanus' relationship with his mother and the balance of the underlying political debate seems heavily skewed against popular democracy.
Doran and designer Richard Hudson embrace the opportunity for spectacle and colour, opting for monumental red marbled walls with complementary cloaks and accessories for the Romans, the Voscians favouring a cool grey. The crowd scenes in Rome are deftly handled, though the battle scenes underwhelm; it is in the quieter scenes that the production really scores.
Janet Suzman, returning to the RSC stage after some years' absence, looks every inch the Roman matriarch but surprisingly seems under-powered vocally in the cavern that is the RST and the scenes with Houston never really catch fire. Michael Hadley, though, is a fine Cominius and Trevor White an impassioned Tullus Aufidius.
A decent production then, often finely nuanced, as you would expect from Doran, and one which can be caught until the end of the month. After that, the curtain will fall on this historic stage for the last time. But, as Coriolanus reminds the people of Rome before he walks out for the last time: "There is a world elsewhere".
- Pete Wood