First Night: Coriolanus, Shakespeare's Globe, London

Masterly account of political intrigue bodes well for new regime at Shakespeare's Globe
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The Independent Culture

The weather gave its blessing to Dominic Dromgoole's new regime at Shakespeare's Globe, obliging with a lovely golden summer evening for the première of his inaugural production of Coriolanus.

In doing so, the elements showed good taste. Dromgoole succeeds the brilliant actor-manager Mark Rylance who, for many people quite simply was Shakespeare's Globe - the Bankside theatre without him as unthinkable a proposition as Hamlet without the prince.

But while the two men are in many respects very different, Dromgoole has a similar maverick spirit and establishment-baiting outspokenness and his new, likeably blokey book, Will and Me, demonstrates an energetic, life-long passion for the Bard.

The director puts his stamp on his new home with a lucid, fluent, cannily cast account of Shakepeare's most political play. Thrusting two raised pincer-shaped walkways out from the stage into the audience, it is an involving experience, literally, in that it co-opts the groundlings as the crowd of mutinous Roman citizens who, in these early days of the Republic, find themselves manipulated by their own crafty tribunes and execrated as vermin by the titular soldier hero.

Jonathan Cake's Coriolanus weaves rapidly through the mob of punters with a fastidious disdain as though seeking to resist contamination. Resembling a posh rugger bugger with his broken-nosed profile and powerful physique and sounding like a clipped public school toff, Cake makes a striking impression. Like some other members of the cast - Robin Soans, for example, who brings an excellent testy wit to the role of the patrician fixer, Menenius - Cake, on occasion, delivers the verse so swiftly that it's hard to catch the detail of what is being said. But he's deft at establishing the requisite dual response to this protagonist. Reacting with an enraged Pavlovian predictability to the tribunes' button-pressing insults he's a blackly comic figure - a political idiot whose only home is the battlefield. And yet Cake makes you aware of how terrible a fate it is to be him, conditioned to become a killing-machine on behalf of the state and then ordered to betray his nature by dissembling. In the famous embassy scene, it's all the more moving that he wrestles with his filial feelings until the very last moment.

When his new treacherous chums, the Volscians kill him at the end, he falls into the crowd and his heart is gouged out by his jealousy-crazed adversary Aufidius. A Coriolanus that augurs well for the rest of Dromgoole's first season.

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