It's no Roman holiday for Alan

After his marathon in Henry V and the three parts of Henry VI, Alan Howard deserves a holiday. But there is no deckchair at Bournemouth for Mr Howard.

Instead the actor whose voice is like the clang of anvils, follows with Shakespeare's most anguished Roman of them all - Coriolanus.

It is another performance of tremendous power and variety.

For more than three hours he holds the centre stage as the war hero with twenty-nine wounds - "every gash an enemy's grave" - who, despite his victories, is rejected for his pride by the common people.


Shakespeare's most political play, Coriolanus, was concerned (as early as about 1605) with the democratic right of people to have a say in the choice of their leaders.

So the dirctor, Terry Hands rightly gives the tragedy a timeless, placeless setting. There may be talk of Tiber and the Forum, but there's not a toga in sight. Mr Howard bestrides the stage in black, heavily studded leather - except at the climax of his vengeful arrogance when he changes into red and appears in a space helmet clearly borrowed from the Dark Lord of Star Wars.

The plebs wear the flat caps and mufflers of Middle European revolutionaries. They are incited against their masters by tribunes with raincoats and briefcases, dull dogs who have the heavy tread of labour organisers.


The clownish old Menenius (Graham Crowden, who babbles too fast for clarity) dlivers his little homilies sitting on a shooting stick.

In Farrah's stern metallic settings and in a production that often assumes the style of a ballet, Howard pulls together te varied themes. Symbol of all arrogant tyrants, he has to deal with the play's greatest problem - the inconsistencies of the proud, ambitious man who keeps changing his mind.

The height of Coriolanus's arrogance is generally regarded as the scene when he refuses to show his war wounds to the gaping populace. Howard makes this the natural distaste any sensitive man would feel at this method of winning cheap votes.

Julian Glover as the icy leader of the Volscians and Maxine Audley as Coriolanus's self-humbling mother, contribute to a long evening.

It is not all easy going, but afterwards lingers in the mind as an exciting and rewarding experience.

London Evening News, 5.6.78.


Playing Shakespeare/Coriolanus