Thursday, 20 October 2005

Measure for Measure - Shakespeare's Globe 2005

Measure for Measure
Shakespeare's Globe, London, UK.

The first thing to note about this production - and this may be stating the obvious - is that it is very, very funny. Shakespeare’s comedies tend to vary wildly in their laugh quota and Measure for Measure has - well, a good measure. But this production manages to make the audience laugh so much from the very beginning. It then keeps rolling that laughter out until they are so sensitised to the atmosphere that all it takes is a look from one of the actors to set them off into hysterics again. This is in part due to the pacing of the play and its speeches, and its use of the dramatic pause for comic effect. The other part is due to the superb acting and direction. It has its appropriate moments of tension too. Even knowing the plot I was biting my nails when it seemed that things might not turn out for the best for everyone!

As is Globe tradition, the audience are acknowledged from the start. They are referred to as ‘the poor’ of the city, and Mistress Overdone tries to ply her trade to them. Duke Vincentio even points out the ‘whores’ amongst the audience - to the consternation of one poor lady and her husband! This production also includes period-style music and dance to highlight transition and punctuate the action.

The all-male cast are used to good effect. Mistress Overdone (Peter Shorey) is comic without being a pantomime dame, as is Juliet (David Hartley). Isabella (Edward Hogg) is played extremely earnestly and with a lot of depth. She is a very thoughtful character and we can read on her face exactly what is going on in her head. Her changing facial expressions were fascinating to watch - turning a scene from intensely serious to comic without the need for words.

Mark Rylance’s Duke Vincentio is eminently lovable. Regal, yes, at the start of the play, but then a bumbling monk, stumbling over his words, with the very best of intentions but not the expected results. But whether he is dressed up or dressed down, Rylance’s performance is mesmeric and not easily forgotten.

Interestingly, Angelo (Liam Brennan), turns out to be a character who is almost likeable, and who we feel sympathy for, despite at one point actually managing to elicit a hiss of disapproval from the audience. He is played as a man merely doing his job, initially without malicious intentions, and as someone who has real feelings for Isabella, feelings that he struggles with. It is only when he offers his ultimatum that he officially becomes the bad guy. Angelo is a character who could easily be played as pantomime-evil, but thankfully Brennan never falls into this trap. What we see is someone who is hurt at being scorned and doesn’t know how to deal with the situation gracefully. Afterwards he seems to feel real remorse for his deeds, looking decidedly sick even after he is pardoned. Brennan’s soft Scottish accent has the odd effect of making his speech sound more modern than archaic and therefore completely comprehensible even to those wholly unfamiliar with Shakespeare.

This is a truly fabulous production that so easily draws the audience into a deep involvement with the action. My fellow theatregoer - who has no previous interest in or knowledge of Shakespeare - understood every word, rocked with laughter throughout and even bought a copy of the play from the shop afterwards.

This review was originally published on The Shakespeare Revue.  

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