"Enthusiastic reconstruction in Shakespeare's playhouse"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 14/02/09

In Measure for Measure, Lights of London have kept things simple, preferring to let Shakespeare's text and the locations of the performances reflect the deep historical ties both Shoreditch (Old Blue Last) and Bankside (the Rose Theatre) have with the Bard's own history. The costumes have been vaguely modernised in order to bring out the timeless cogency of the play's main themes of justice, morality and corruption, but there is little else in the way of embellished interpretation.

The play is an interesting one, with some wonderful dialogue and wit, and while not all members of the cast deliver these with the same flair, the sense of genuine enthusiasm from the company made this an entertaining evening.

Although the playing space at the Rose on Bankside is hardly ideal for a stage, the audience being forced into a long, narrow space right under the players' noses, it was a treat to see Shakespeare's work performed in the first of his riverside theatres (built in 1587). Being able to view the excavation site in the interval part way made up for the bone-chilling cold in the auditorium.

The plot of Measure for Measure is rather ridiculous but the ideas within it are universal and fascinating. It is a convoluted story in which the Duke (whose behaviour is, in my opinion, the most morally opprobrious of the entire cast) pretends to leave Vienna but doesn't , putting the running of the city into the hands of the supposedly virtuous Angelo while he observes the effects. Angelo's iron-fisted approach to the punishment of vice upsets many - especially his condemning to death of Claudio for begetting a child out of wedlock. When Claudio's sister, the purer-than-pure Isabella, appeals to Angelo for mercy, however, the deal he offers in return for her brother's life exposes his venial nature and the hollowness of his moral stance.

Fumbled lines aside, Stuart Sessions as the Duke gave an appealing performance as the seemingly amiable Duke (and his disguised alter-ego, friar Ludowick) - and proved a lynch-pin for the otherwise slightly inchoate production. Of the other characters, Jennie Fox was well-cast as Isabella, and managed to bring convincing passion to a potentially rather dull persona. Her scene with her brother Claudio, in which he pleads with her to compromise her values and her body for the sake of his life, was the most credible of the whole play. Sadly the potential complexities of Angelo's character were lost on Matthew Wade, whose turn as the deputy was less than one-dimensional. The secondary cast - the 'bawds' Mistress Overdone, Pompey and Froth, and their over-zealous nemesis Elbow - provided an entertaining but predictable portion of low-humoured cheek.

Measure for Measure is known as a play which embodies comic conventions but is problematic in that it's content does not fit easily into the category of Shakespearean comedy. Despite their stated intention to restore the play as a comedy (and Stewart Bewley's turn as the grating but believably arrogant Lucio helps somewhat towards this end), in fact the strongest moments in the play are those of serious emotional depth and sociological examination. The second half, which is essentially formulaic as the various machinations of the plot fall neatly into place for the final, 'happy', resolution, had a distinct feel of going through the motions.

There is a lot of energy and commitment here, if not masses of imaginative force, and no doubt that it is charming (if somewhat chilly) to see Shakespeare's work performed in one of its historical birth places.

Add Your review?

Have your say, add your review

Other recent reviews by Maddy Ryle
Roman Around, Ryan Millar
History is the best story by Maddy Ryle
ZIP: Gun & Knife Crime
Powerful sign of the times by Maddy Ryle
PVT. Wars
Comic and troubling Vietnam fallout by Maddy Ryle
Even Greedy Bankers Deserve Freedom
Nice idea, but no bonus by Maddy Ryle
The Twenty Minute Policy, part of the Camden Fringe
Feel free to watch this by Maddy Ryle