CORIOLANUS is 'a thing of blood', a fighting machine whose war wounds are more highly prized than his medals.

Returning victorious at the head of the Roman army, feted as a hero, he is encouraged to seek political status to match his military status.

But, contemptuous of the ordinary citizens - who are in revolt after months of famine - he finds it impossible to humble himself enough to win their support. Instead he is banished.

The bloody story of the hero's rise, fall, revenge and eventual slaughter is told with passionate ferocity by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Greg Doran's new production.

Richard Hudson's monumental, blood-red set is a mighty backdrop to the huge emotions played out in and around it.

But a towering performance by William Houston, in the title role, matched with Janet Suzman's intense portrayal of Volumnia, his mother, ensures the actors are never overshadowed.

Eleanora Matsuura is appealingly vulnerable as his wife Virgilia and Timothy West gives Menenius due gravity and stature.

The production - the last in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre before it undergoes major transformation - continues in Stratford-upon-Avon until March 31. LG