Set play

CORIOLANUS. Almeida at the Gainsborough Studios

HAMLET. Shakespeare's Globe

The wide sweep of the stage at the old Gainsborough film studios was transformed into a garden for Richard II. The set for Coriolanus - bare, bleak and relieved only by an under-lit transparent square in the floor and the jagged fissure in the back wall which comes with the building - could not be more different. the gash in the brickwork serves as a valid symbol for dramatic conflict, especially the political, society-rending variety which is common to these otherwise very different plays.

Shakespeare's Rome has been relocated to the late 19th or early 20th century, and probably England. The plebeians gather angrily around a meeting table like early trade unionists in a sweat-shop factory. So far so good. The class differences, the fury of the workers being slighted by the ruling class and the necessity, recognised by patricians, to woo the unwashed could not be clearer in this setting or have such obvious resonances for modern politicians jumping on popular bandwagons.

The change of time and place is less happy as the plot unfolds. The supposed civilisation of Rome, built on blood-lust, is not easily contrasted with the wildness of the Volscian tribe when both groups behave like unpleasant public school boys caught in an inter-house feud.

Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus has a nice line in sneers, but both he and Linus Roache as the Volscian leader Aufidius lack the danger which should make them twin souls.

Oliver Ford Davies is convincing as a wheedling and astute Menenius, and Barbara Jefford's Volumnia exudes well-bred toughness. She has more presence than both the film-star leads put together and speaks her lineswith the sort of persuasive dignity that brooks no opposition. No wonder her boy Coriolanus - spoilt, vain and brave to the point of madness - so wants to impress his mother.

If Jonathan Kent's production seems constrained rather than liberated by the choice of costume and period, it prevents any glamourising of violence. Coriolanus dies a bloodied thug, not a hero.

There are concessions for schools and an education pack and workshops are available. For information: 020 7226 7432. Tickets: 020 7359 4404 At Shakespeare's Globe, Mark Rylance returns triumphantly to the part of Hamlet. The neurosis in his fine interpretation for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1989 is in evidence still, but he has built on that to produce, under Giles Block's direction, a complicated prince, full of contradictions which nevertheless add up to a credible whole.

His self-dramatising quality is in evidence even before he speaks as he waits, arm outstretched theatrically, to be noticed by Claudius and his mother. He knows how to play - with others' words and feelings, especially Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guidenstern - and out of sheer devilment, apparently attacking Polonius's severed head only to reveal it as a cabbage. But he fears for his own sanity and is sometimes overwhelmed by emotion. He is mercurial, funny and immensely touching. The performance ends with a stately-comic jig which is both moving and full of primitive humour.

Scene follows scene swiftly, and it is a particular pleasure to watch Hamlet discussing real cloud shapes with Polonius and chaffing the groundlings just as Shakespeare intended 400 years ago. There are various workshops throughout the season. Tickets and enquiries: 020 7401 9919.

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