Measure For Measure by William Shakespeare
Theatre Royal Plymouth
2 Hours 40 minutes – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – 12 February 2020
Just when you think of giving up on productions of Shakespeare plays, because of the insistence directors seem to have in buggering about with The Bard, a bright light suddenly appears before you and you settle down and realise all is right with the world.
The RSC tour to Plymouth kicks off with what is often referred to as one of the ‘problem’ plays – quite honestly this motif is now attached to so many of the canon that you wonder why anyone bothers at all. Thank goodness for RSC’s Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, who has the Complete Works coursing through his veins and knows a thing or two about bringing them to an audience in a fresh and thrilling fashion.
Measure For Measure is hardly an out and out comedy; prostitution, corruption, sexual infidelity, male sexual domination and potential rape, all feature among other subject matters. Pertinent themes to modern day abound and the production presents many reasons to send the audience home in thoughtful mood.
To hear the words of the play spoken with such clarity and understanding is such a rarity – this is the Royal Shakespeare Company, and you can see why they provide something of a benchmark. It is a joy to behold.
Setting the action in early 20th Century Vienna, works well, with staging that is simple, but very effective, allowing the pace of the production to never pall and the 90 minute first half speeds by. Incidental music by Paul Englishby punctuates the action and is vibrant, sensitive and rather beautiful. The dour nature of some of the action, provides a fairly limited colour palette for costumes, enlivened by the gaudy garments of the rakes and prostitutes.
As an acting ensemble goes, you don’t get much better. Angelo must be one of the more repellent of stage creations and Sandy Grierson’s take is creepy, threatening and pathetic by turn. This is a wonderful buttoned-down performance of repression, showing how ambition can blind one to reason and how religious observance – even down to the wearing of a cilice – can cloud judgment. The moment he starts pawing at Isabella, causing her a temporary bodily paresis, is incredibly uncomfortable to observe. Lucy Phelps offers a powerhouse of emotion and strength as the wronged sister and victim of Angelo; wow, what a mesmerising presence she brings to the role – at the end of the play, when she patently rejects the Duke’s overtures, you almost feel you want to get up and cheer. A modern woman, fighting her corner in the most depraved of societies.
Overseeing the action from near and afar – when in disguise – is Anthony Byrne as the Duke of Vienna. He commands attention not only from the other characters, but also from the audience – the role forms a narrative thread throughout and this first-rate actor allows everyone to follow the twists and turns of the story.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not all pain and misery, the production is also very funny and there are some wonderfully comic performances which make this such a rich play. Joseph Arkley has enormous fun as Lucio – described as a ‘fantastic’ – and he is – a spiv/Terry-Thomas cad creation; this is as assured a performance as you will ever see. Weighing in too is the mighty Graeme Brooks with the double role as Mistress Overdone and Barnadine – has to be seen to be believed – comedy heaven. And special mention for Tom Dawze in the tiny role of Froth – a floppy-fringed/Mr Bean invention – sublime. With excellent work also from Claire Price as Escalus, David Ajao as Pompey, Michael Patrick as Elbow and Amanda Harris as the Provost, this is a very impressive cast indeed.
Gregory Doran directs with a light hand on the tiller whilst allowing the actors to speak the lines in the most accessible fashion. The production demonstrates an understanding and a passion for Shakespeare’s work which provides for the modern audience.
It is an outstanding production and the audience was utterly entranced by it. I left the theatre invigorated, motivated and hugely satisfied.
DUKE OF VIENNA – ANTHONY BYRNE
ANGELO – SANDY GRIERSON
ESCALUS – CLAIRE PRICE
CLAUDIO – JAMES COONEY
ISABELLA – LUCY PHELPS
JULIET – ANY TRIGG
LUCIO – JOSEPH ARKLEY
FROTH – TOM DAWZE
MISSTRESS OVERDONE/BARNADINE – GRAEME BROOKES
POMPEY – DAVID AJAO
ELBOW – MICHAEL PATRICK
PROVOST – AMANDA HARRIS
ABHORSON/FRIAR THOMAS – PATRICK BRENNAN
MARIANA – SOPHIE KHAN LEVY
KATE KEEPDOWN – MELODY BROWN
SISTER FRANCISCA – KARINA JONES
ANGELO’S SECRETARY – HANNAH AZUONYE
GENTLEMAN – ALEXANDER MUSHORE
DIRECTOR – GREGORY DORAN
DESIGNER – STEPHEN BRIMSON LEWIS
LIGHTING DESIGN – SIMON SPENCER
COMPOSER – PAUL ENGLISHBY