This Roman tragedy is a tricky one. Or so I've always thought. Its titular warrior hero all too often seems cold, hard and impenetrable. Perhaps it's all the tribunes' bitter talk about his patrician arrogance or his long silence at the dramatic crunch when his mother, Volumnia, goes down on bended knee and begs him not to decimate his native city in revenge for his banishment. Ralph Fiennes and Greg Hicks have tackled the role in recent years with intensity and sardonic imperiousness, nevertheless still leaving a po-faced impression.
Now, however, prepare to have such preconceptions given a good shaking. Jonathan Cake's bounding, grinning Coriolanus kicks off Dominic Dromgoole's first season in charge of the Globe with the blood palpably pumping round his huge, burly frame. He races from one battle to the next - with breastplate and greaves worn easily over doublet and hose - like a young sporting Henry VIII or a public-school rugger champ. This Coriolanus has an almost ridiculously posh accent combined with a potentially thuggish physique, yet manages to be remarkably likeable, giving his loyal friends bearhugs.
There are flashes of the overgrown adolescent too as he becomes both seriously upset and comically livid when told by his elders to toe the line. He is, in fact, very nearly the Hotspur of Ancient Rome, bound for a gruesome tragic fall but with latently farcical rhythms en route as he keeps losing his rag. Smirking and shaking his head at trumpeting fanfares, it seems he genuinely can't stand flattery and spin. When he is obliged win round the plebs whom he scorns in order to become a consul, his electioneering skills are hilariously awful, going walkabout in the pit but blatantly grimacing at the great unwashed. At the same time, Cake is a crowd-pleasing action hero, inspiring gasps as he conquers the Volscian foe like some full-scale version of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible CDXCIII BC, literally causing sparks fly in a four-blade sword fight then laying in with a round of punches. Margot Leicester's Volumnia, rather than a steely matron, is also entertainingly full of beans, almost girlishly excited about her son's glorious war wounds.
This production has its flaws, as does the play. A few of the supporting cast are dull and two-dimensional. Politically, it's not that trenchant, leaning too far towards the warmly humorous. There's little real sense of danger from riots and invasion and Coriolanus could be more sharply double-edged regarding the lure of power. The aforementioned pleading scene proves curiously weak not helped by the acoustics, which make everyone sound as if they're speaking from the bottom of a well, creating a kind of aural anaemia. However, Dromgoole will probably get better at handling that problem. There were some raised eyebrows at his appointment, regarding his directorial calibre as well as his previous concentration on new writing, but he and the Globe may actually hit it off rather well. This production is slightly rough around the edges, drawn in bold strokes, yet the open-air setting helps makes its vigour feel very enjoyable and refreshing.
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