Pros: A stellar cast, arresting visuals and a superb adaptation bring a welcomed intensity to the story.
Cons: You’d be lucky to find anything to disagree with in this production.
To bring to life the magic of Shakespeare is no mean feat, but HT Theatre’s production of Measure for Measure at the Barons Court Theatre does just that. The acting, direction and the slashed script are wonderful, producing gripping scenes that culminate in a coherent and enjoyable take on a play that, in its original form, is problematic and often confusing.
The story is set in Vienna, a place rife with lechery and crime according to those in power, and when Claudio is sentenced to death for impregnating his sweetheart, Julietta, a spate of ethical dilemmas ensue. His sister Isabella’s virtue is held to ransom by Angelo, the deputy in charge of the city, until the Duke returns to issue his own peculiar mix of justice and mercy.
The cavernous quality and uniquely shaped space of the Barons Court Theatre, housed in the basement of the Curtain’s Up pub, are perfect for the solemn and often dismal scenes set in the prison, the monastery and the nunnery from which the novice Isabella is whisked away from to barter for her brother’s life. Oddly placed pillars divide an already tiny and intimate stage into multiple rooms perfect for the deception and overheard conversations you get so much of in Shakespeare. Lighting, candles and music were used effectively to help shift the mood of scenes where needed, and contributed to an engaging and dynamic overall picture.
The script is cleverly and suitably shortened by Joshua Jewkes, whose fantastic performance of Lucio brings a levity and much needed comedy to proceedings. The play’s initial scenes are taken out without much of the humour or context being sacrificed. You always know where you are in the play and there are some clever touches, used to show you things not usually seen on stage, such as the bed-trick moment where Antonio is about to bed his lady-love (spoiler: it’s not the woman he’s hoping for).
Some of the best scenes include Claudio’s monologue on death, which seems to me far more penetrating than Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ speech. Actor Rob Fellman does an exquisite job of convincing the audience of Claudio’s intractable fear of death, which for him equates to total obliteration. Equally compelling are the rich exchanges between the pious and resolute Isabella, played by Leah Lawry-Johns and the dark and disturbing Angelo, played by Adam Cunis; there is so much unfolding between them and you are not quite sure how aware they both are of their predicament. Finally, the moment where the Duke speaks the title of the play, a biblical warning stating that those who show mercy shall receive mercy, gave me chills. It was as if the words were being uttered by some lawless and pitiless God.
A most shocking thing I must mention is the point in the show where Isabella slaps Claudio: I have never heard a slap so loud and violent in all my life. It was marvelous! But also not completely deliberate, as we found out during the post-show Q&A. Marvelous, I should add, because it’s representative of the cast’s commitment to the intensity of the poetry and their involvement in the character conflicts, not because I have a penchant for out-and-out violence on stage!
The Q&A after the show was also really enjoyable. That the cast and crew really enjoyed working on this project was evident from their insightful comments on the process and performance of the play. There was a general feeling among the audience that this was a very special production, and on that basis, you are advised to go see it if you can.
Author: William Shakespeare
Adaptation: Joshua Jewkes
Director: Jaclyn Bradley
Producer: HT Theatre
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Booking Link: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/plays/view/12226
Booking Until: 14 December 2014