Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is a dark comedy about corrupt politics and misogyny in Vienna. Gregory Doran directs a clever production that is laced with nuance.
Vienna is a mess, no one is taking any notice of the law and the Duke feels it is his fault. He hands power over to his strict deputy Angelo whilst going undercover. Angelo sentences a young man named Claudio to death merely because him and his finance are expecting a child before getting married. Claudio’s sister, a nun, pleads with Angelo for her brother’s life. Angelo promises to spare his life, on the condition that she sleeps with him. Isabella is stuck not knowing whether to break her pact with god or to lose her brother forever.
Ultimately it’s a story about a young woman without choices, which is a scary parallel with the way the world as been, and feels like it is headed. With Trump reversing the abortion laws in Alabama, women are losing control of their own bodies, making it an alarmingly relevant story. Gregory Doran’s direction is simple and slick, so it feels as if it could be taking place in any era.
What’s fantastic about this play is the clear narrative, Shakespeare hasn’t convoluted this story and every character plays an important role in the storytelling. It feels accessible and easy to follow, which then shines a light on the spectacular performances. Lucy Phelps is phenomenal in the role of Isabella. She brings sensitivity and vulnerability whilst maintaining an inner strength that seeps through. She is broken and faced with great difficulty, yet manages to discover her power within. Isabella is a superb character to watch develop throughout the play and Phelps gives her voice the integrity it deserves.
Antony Byrne captures the complexities of the Duke who goes undercover as a Friar to discover more about the goings on in Vienna. Byrne displays the Duke’s warmth and kind-hearted nature with sincerity. Joseph Arkey brings immense humour as the hugely caricatured Lucio – a flamboyant bachelor. David Ajao stands out with his dynamic performance as Pompey. Ajao brings so much natural charisma to the role and he his commanding stage presence elevates the show for a 21st century audience.
The RSC’s Measure for Measure is a compelling comedy that tells a thought-provoking story about politics, sex and religion told by a stellar cast of actors.
Measure for Measure is on at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 29th of August before heading out on tour. Tickets and information can be found on their website.
Photo credit // Helen Maybanks