Pros: The Rose Playhouse always deserves a visit, no matter what’s on stage.
Cons: In this attempt of modernising Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the Elizabethan language comes across as a limitation.
The Rose Playhouse is one of a kind. With the audience seated in a semicircle around the wooden platform – which also serves as a stage – and the archaeological excavations in the background, the actors are offered a vast and multilayered performing space. Lighting designer Petr Vocka plays wisely with the alternation of light and darkness to frame different scenes, whilst directors Simon Rodda and Rebecca Rogers make the most of this unique theatre which is notoriously the first purpose-built playhouse to have hosted any of Shakespeare’s works. The action often switches to the background, where, in the distance, we can see a green edge, some mattresses and a cross hanging on the wall. There, we witness some of the crudest events, like the conviction of Claudio (Luke de Belder) and the hot encounter between Isabella (Rebecca Rogers), Angelo (Blake Kubena) and Mariana (Gemma Clough). It’s a shame that from the first row – where I was seated – the balustrade gets in the way, right in the middle of the sightlines.
The story is set in Vienna which, following a frenzy of debauchery and corruption, has been abandoned by the Duke Vincentio (Matthew Darcy), with custody given over to his autocratic cousin Angelo. Sadly, the new ruler turns out to be far less virtuous than his reputation suggests, and his conduct vacillates drastically in front of Isabella, sister of a death-sentenced man called Claudio. Morals, lust, religion and abuse of power are depicted in Measure for Measure with Shakespeare’s recognisable intensity.
Heady Conduct Theatre decides to give a contemporary spin to this timeless drama but, ultimately, fails to deliver consistency. The acting is remarkably stronger in the male roles and the costumes are trapped somewhere between tradition and modernity. Angelo and Mariana wear sunglasses but the man’s outfit is something similar to an old priest’s gown. Lucio (Simon Rodda) is wearing baggy trousers and a loose, white shirt – like the ones we often see in period productions – whereas the Provost (also played by Gemma Clough) is styled with a black business-like suit and the Duke sports a blue shirt and smart-casual trousers. Rejected Mariana pores out all her disappointment accompanied by a loud, rock tune, which inevitably clashes with the heavy presence of Shakespeare’s ancient English.
Nonetheless, even if the production lacks character, the company deserves praise for carrying out the performance with boundless energy. Scrolling down the credits I could see that most of the actors not only undertake more than one role, but also cover duties within the creative team, proving an admirable professional resilience and serious commitment to the theatrical craftsmanship.
Author: William Shakespeare
Directors: Simon Rodda and Rebecca Rogers
Producer: Heady Conduct Theatre
Box Office: 020 7261 9565
Booking link: http://www.wegottickets.com/f/9681
Booking Until: 29 May 2016