by William Shakespeare.

Almeida Theatre Almeida Street N1 1TA To 10 April 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 24 Feb, 3, 17, 24, 31 March 2.30pm.
Audio-described 27 March 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1pm).
Captioned 17 March 2.30pm, 22 March.
Post-show Discussion 22 March (with speech-to-text transcription), 7 April.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7359 4404.
Review: Carole Woddis 19 February.

Intelligent revival if not with all the answers.
Measure for Measure (c1604) leaves an unsavoury taste in the mouth. Written at a time when James I was busy dismantling Tudor entertainment and so-called `excesses’, the strength of Michael Attenborough’s Almeida production is in emphasising the play’s ambivalent ending.

Anna Maxwell Martin’s Isabella looks thoroughly miserable at the prospect of marriage proposed by Ben Miles’ Duke, whilst Angelo (Rory Kinnear) and Mariana (Victoria Lloyd), returned from an imposed marriage, stand uncomfortably side by side. Meanwhile Claudio (Emun Elliott) blinks in the sunlight, suddenly released from prison. The spotlight lingers on them, four puppets, victims of manipulation.

For all this suitably acrid and uneasy finale, there is a conundrum at the heart of this revival of one of Shakespeare’s most resonantly contemporary plays about the abuse of power and sexual hypocrisy. Attenborough has a long and honourable RSC association as Associate Director in the 1990s but this is his first Shakespeare production at the Almeida. In limited space, he’s produced a typically lucid, intelligently spoken version that moves swiftly, thanks to Lez Brotherston’s sliding screens, between voluptuous splendour and modernism without, however, somehow providing a compelling vision.

Miles is a busy but bland Duke who kept reminding me of a TV reporter going `under cover’. The usually glowing Maxwell Martin, damped down, appropriately as a novice nun put to the test, has some impressive moments, not least in her clashes with Kinnear’s Angelo.

As the punitive deputy, Kinnear (soon to try his hand at Hamlet), is more a fresh-faced Junior Minister in spectacles, brief case and casual suit than a tormented puritan like Paul Rhys in Complicité’s 2004 version.

By far the most enjoyably human aspects here come, as so often, from Lucio, played by Lloyd Hutchinson with a delicious Irish twinkle. If the devil has the best tunes, he makes out the best possible argument for going to hell in a hand-cart.

The mystery remains. Is the apparently absent, ever-observing Duke an omniscient Guiding Hand come to redeem society? Or as some suggest, simply a moral coward, unwilling to do his own dirty work? The jury stays out.

Duke Vincentio: Ben Miles.
Escalus: David Killick.
Justice: Nick Richards.
Angelo: Rory Kinnear.
Lucio: Lloyd Hutchinson.
Gentleman/Abhorson: Mark Monero.
Mistress Overdone: Flaminia Cinque.
Pompey: Trevor Cooper.
Claudio: Emun Elliott.
Provost: David Annen.
Friar Peter: Andrew French.
Isabella: Anna Maxwell Martin.
Francisca/Dancer: Jessica Tomchak.
Mariana/Dancer: Victoria Lloyd.
Elbow: Tony Turner.
Froth/Barnadine: Sean Kearns.
Juliet: Daisy Boulton.

Director: Michael Attenborough.
Designer: Lez Brotherston.
Lighting: David Hersey.
Sound: John Leonard.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Movement: Imogen Knight.
Assistant director: Robert Icke.

2010-02-22 01:50:34

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