Sunday, August 09, 2015

MEASURE FOR MEASURE: back to the beginning...

In 2004 I took an afternoon off working in the poster shop to have a theatrical adventure.  Although the Globe Southwark had been open for seven years I had never had the urge to go before I heard that Sophie Thompson was playing the virtuous Isabella opposite Mark Rylance as The Duke in John Dove's production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

Despite an engaging performance from Sophie, I didn't feel any particular urge to go back to the theatre for another seven years!  But last year we had a good run of productions there which has continued this year so it was always going to be an interesting experience to return to MEASURE FOR MEASURE again.

This production was directed by departing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole and seemed similar to the 2004 one in playing up the comedy and letting the dark heart of the play take a back seat.  Sadly it is not a play I warm to: it seems to be full of scenes which are full of exposition of what has happened offstage - it can get quite frustrating after a while.

The play also seems a trifle broken-backed.  Angelo appears quite a lot in the first half but then vanishes for most of the second half - we are told how the revenge on him is plotted and has come about which feels odd for such a dominant part.

Maybe I need to see a production that downplays the antics of the bawdy folk.  In Dromgoole's production all the emphasis was laid on the laughs and none on the disturbing ambiguous morality.  Maybe that is too difficult to do when you have to provide the obligatory song and jig at the end?

The Duke of Venice decides to experience for himself how amoral the city has become and disguises himself as a monk while handing the reins of power over to his deputy Angelo and his more understanding brother Escalus.  Angelo seizes his chance to crack down on all that affronts his puritanical morality, and in the midst of closing down the brothels, he also sentences to death Claudio who has committed the crime of sleeping with his fiancee Juliet.

Claudio gets word to his novice sister Isabella to intercede on his behalf but despite her impassioned pleas, Angelo refuses.  However Angelo is a typical politician - he preaches morality while being less than pure himself.  He had previously promised a woman, Mariana, that they would marry then dropped her when she proved less wealthy than he thought and now he tells Isabella that he will free Claudio - if Isabella will sleep with him.

Isabella wrestles with her conscience and she cannot give in to her brother's pleadings to sacrifice her virginity.  Angered by Angelo's draconian measures, the disguised Duke finds a plan to trap his deputy but time is running out...

I think it would certainly have helped had our Angelo dominated the production but Kurt Egyiawan's performance was as weighty as a gadfly which was a huge disappointment.  Mariah Gale's Isabella was steadfast but also lacked any inner fire to really make her claim centre-stage.

The performances that had any element in humour were the ones that seemed to connect more: there wasn't much ambiguity in Dominic Rowan's disguised Duke Vincentio but he found all the humour he could especially in the final scenes when he has to to reveal his two identities.  Brendan O'Hea was an outrageous Lucio, stalking around the stage like a camp ostrich, trying to inveigle himself in with the most powerful character.  The spirit of Kenneth Williams was abroad the night we went!

I very much liked Paul Rider's sympathetic Escalus as well as Trevor Fox's pugnacious Geordie Pompey, always ready to defend his amoral lifestyle.  There was an odd performance from Dean Nolan as Elbow the Constable who appears to be channeling James Cordon's 'look at me I'm fat' schtick and an insistent but not-very-successful Mistress Overdone from Petra Massey.  The production marked a first however - my first Globe stage bare arse courtesy of Dennis Herdman.

A problem play which was enjoyable enough but not totally delivering on what the play's real message is.  Oh well, on to the next one...

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