Dominic Dromgoole's first season as artistic director opens with a fast paced production of Coriolanus, exploring the psychology of power and the nature of democracy.
In the early Roman Republic the people are starving and resentful of those who control the state granaries. The victorious soldier Caius Martius (Jonathan Cake) is soon seen as a 'baddie' – mocking the loyal common folk, whose regional accents bring colour and humour to the scene. The people are given a voice in the form of 5 tribunes to represent them but Martius makes it clear that he despises them. He is hailed as 'Coriolanus' ; the power he has earned and the way it should be used is developed in the rest of the play.
The mood swings this way and that: the comedy scenes with the soldiers, the people, or the servants are a foil to the lofty thoughts on power. Coriolanus's only confidant, Menenius (Robin Soans), always tries to intercede, to be the voice of reason, but even he is brushed away as the tension mounts.
Volumnia (Margot Leicester) is strongly played, adoring her only son but grimly realistic about her son's overbearing nature.
For a moment we wonder if the disguised and penitent Coriolanus, making peace with his former enemy, Aufidius, will heed his mother's words and his humilty be revealed. Tragically, his true nature brings his downfall.
The complex plot is hard to follow when dense texts are spoken so fast and its easy to miss the points where the direction changes. For all his lithe body movement Coriolanus did not quite convince in his oratory. However, there is good use of gesture and body language to amplify the meaning in the smaller parts. The costumes are Elizabethan with wonderful silky togas thrown over the shoulder.
Some of the speeches resonate with today's preoccupation with the Blair leadership style. Sadly, there is not enough space in the dialogue to develop the parallels in one's head. Coriolanus's shocking murder at the end is cleverly handled and the Globe tradition of a rousing final dance continues.
• In repertory until Sunday 13 August; book online now