Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review Measure For Measure


Measure For Measure
by William Shakespeare


They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab
http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/measure-for-measure

First of all, TLT and her motorised equerry should make it - beep, beep! - clear, this was a preview.

Duke Vincentio (Zubin Varla) surfaces from a warehouse sea of blow up sex dolls on to the triptych-framed stage  (design Miriam Buether) to announce austerity has come to Vienna's brothels.

Why, we never quite get to know. Maybe the lender country has called in its loans after the (ahem!) bottom dropped out of the consumer market for their goods, hence the surfeit of scarecrow-like sex dolls?!

This is a heavily edited (dramaturge Zoë Svendson), no-interval Measure For Measure directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins with Varla as its magnificent lynchpin.  Part art installation/performance arts, part US police procedural or thriller, part (or maybe full) crack den as well as movie studio complete with omnipresent over-the-shoulder cameras.  

A surfeit also of video shot - maybe for future transmission,  maybe for archiving, maybe for the cutting room floor. Pulsating sound (Paul Arditti) out of TV drama backs the action.

Duke Vincentio, though  middle-aged, seems only to  just have emerged from a years' long house rave/orgy. There is no Mistress Overdone (cutting room floor obviously!)  but the Duke is literally undone at the beginning.  And, having buttoned himself up, he appoints the next generation to do the dirty work of cleaning up the city.

Angelo (Paul Ready),  media-ready, dresses (credibly) more like a head croupier or an estate agent than a puritan to head the crackdown on lechery but slyly smarmy, sharing secrets, from the first: " Always obedient to your grace's will, I come to know your pleasure ..."

Meanwhile Escalus (Sarah Malin), all efficient suit and high heels, hovers like an advisor from The West Wing or executive seconded from a corporation in a state where execution can take place by "private message" and prisons are hidden behind sliding doors at the back of government offices.

This is a hit-and-miss surveillance state. After the Duke dons his Friar disguise, the confession box becomes a video box with faces looming large on projections (video: Chris Kondek). 

And is that a state cop or from a private security firm (Hammed Animashaun)? Or even an out-of-work actor who fits the role and has the uniform with large letters PROVOST on the back and an American accent out of police procedurals?

Isabella (Romola Garai), dressed in a blue shift and white triangular scarf covering her head, has almost stepped out of a Vermeer painting into the stage frame, although her previous ostentatious bird-like swoop into prayer may also indicate an awareness of the cameras. 

With a "That's well-said",  it's as if Angelo finds her fresh PR techniques of persuasion,  rather than just her body and his power,  the turning point sexy turn-on.

More problematic, as  TLT noticed also in The Globe version of the same play, is to sustain any erotic tension and follow the arguments once the characters of Angelo and Isabella are established and the novice nun argues her case.  

While this scene is nicely bookended with naturalistic touches, we noticed a dip in attention in the audience. This may have been a production waiting to bed down in preview and find a rhythm  but two productions with the same flaw doesn't feel like a coincidence - something lacking in the productions rather than text. 

After all, the deputy ruler of Vienna is blackmailing Isabella for sex and even when he's over her like a dog on heat on all fours, it feels just - well - choreographed.

The close up projections also have the effect of flattening the emotion at crucial points.

Nevertheless, there's some beautiful verse speaking and the video projections emphasize the rhetorical nature of Shakespeare's Vienna. 

Only in Angelo's soliloquies and Julietta (Natalie Simpson), made pregnant out of wedlock by Isabella's brother Claudio and shying away from cameras, is the public declamation more suppressed in a culture swinging like a pendulum between private pleasures and public naming and shaming.

And the chiaroscuro lighting (lighting James Farncombe) on Isabella during the "fear of death" speech of her brother Claudio (Ivanno Jeremiah) as they sit on the prison ground, with Claudio intently watching her reactions, does summon something new from the text.

Part of the understated key to this production is surely the casting of a woman as Escalus, carrying out the orders of the Duke manoeuvring through the play. One wonders, since there is an ambitious woman who does the business and is prepared to let citizens die, whether in different circumstances  Isabella would have done the same?

Soft-spoken Scottish Lucio (John MacKay), the pimp turned hangman, seems equally at home directing, tutoring and prompting Isabella, at times a crouching animal at the side watching forensically the action. Pompey  (Tom Edden) channels 70s' Huggy Bear  and Woody Allen, as both he and the Provost seem imports from American TV into Vienna.

It ends with an uneasy family portrait with two of the protagonists chased out of the picture to jail. One is left to wonder whether the elaborate charade was only to get rid of those characters without the possiblity of blackmail and to contain Angelo's power. 

And is there some other kind of relationship between Angelo and the Duke to make Isabella and Mariana (Cath Whitefield) decide it is in their interests to prevent his execution?

It's a flashy, thought-through, fast-moving production for the Netflix generation with Zubin Varla  managing affairs like some Ducal Andy Warhol. There is something lost in the execution but also something found. We've had the pilot. Maybe we'll have the series - the Duke and his young bride as squabbling crime investigators, complete with sidekicks, in Vienna?! An amber light.

CORRECTION The Duke, was played by Zubin Varla not as previously published ... 

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