Directed by James Tobias
Pros: A talented cast who are up to the challenge of Shakespeare’s verse; well-conceived set design; flashy dance numbers to enhance the experience; the plays themes remain incredibly relevant.
Cons: I felt the play dragged in places and could have used a bit more energy. Occasionally the noise from the adjoining pub distracts from the play’s more subtle moments.
Our Verdict: An excellent production of one of the Bard’s lesser-known plays. The play’s dark and sinister themes are brought to the fore to create a chilling theatrical experience.
Upon entering the Brockley Jack Studio for Immersion Theatre’s production of Measure for Measure,
you are met by a throng of women in burlesque dress, gyrating to Marilyn Manson. We are in a city overrun by corruption and vice. Though regularly classified as a comedy, Measure for Measure is dark and unsettling. This production highlight’s the play’s sinister themes and shows how they are as relevant today as they were in Shakespeare’s day.
Shakespeare set Measure for Measure in Venice, though the location doesn’t matter; we could be in any corrupted city where unfeeling politicians hurt the innocent. The play’s premise is that the Duke, the city’s ruler, has been called away and has handed over the reins of power to Angelo, his deputy. In fact, the Duke disguises himself as a friar so that he can observe what’s really going on in his city from the inside. Angelo is a Draconian official and imposes strict moral laws on the city. He decides to make an example of young man called Claudio by sentencing him to death for impregnating his girlfriend, Juliet. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a devout nun, visits Angelo and pleads with him to show mercy and spare her brother’s life. Angelo quickly falls in lust with Isabella. He agrees to spare Claudio, but only in exchange for Isabella’s virginity. Isabella sees her situation as a choice between eternal damnation and condemning her brother to death. The Duke, however, still undercover as a friar, knows a secret from Angelo’s past, and hatches a plan that can save Claudio while Isabella remains chaste.
Immersion Theatre presents the show with minimal staging and a burlesque-inspired aesthetic. A chair (or throne?) upstage centre, representing the seat of power, is the only prop on stage. The austere and cold decor work well to suggest the city’s harsh and unfeeling jurisdiction. There are a few sexy dance numbers to modern music, which, rather than seeming gimmicky or detracting from the play’s content, aptly represent a city infested with sleaze.
The cast do an excellent job of bringing Shakespeare’s language to life. Gregory Simpson is menacing and creepy as Angelo, and succeeds in showing the character’s inner turmoil. His soliloquy, in which he analysed his feelings for Isabella, was intense and chilling. Brian Merry showed mastery of a complex character in the role of the Duke. Rochelle Parry gives a moving performance as the pure and lovely Isabella. I loved Linda Taimre’s double performance as both the frosty Escala (normally Escalus, but here flawlessly transformed into woman with power), and the innocent prioress Francisca. There was also welcome comic relief from Rob Taylor-Hastings as the pimp Pompey. Admittedly, I did occasionally feel that the pacing was slow and that the performances could have used a bit more energy. Also, intermittent noise from the adjoining pub meant that a few of the play’s subtle moments were lost, though I can’t blame the cast and crew for this.
At the end of the performance, I was left feeling unsettled and consumed with thoughts of how the play’s themes of corrupted politicians, the plight of the innocent, and the struggle to find a balance between justice and mercy, are as relevant today as ever. The play is not uplifting but well worth the effort.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!
Measure for Measure runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 20th July 2013.
Box Office: 0844 8700 887or book online at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/