Heady Conduct has gone for comedy over tragedy in this adaptation of Measure for Measure that is so austere it almost comes across as a statement about government funding cuts to the arts. It’s a point made all the more vivid by the laying down of some ground rules at the start, though I will refrain from divulging what they all are, suffice to say ringing mobile telephones are frowned upon in Vienna. It’s more than a little odd watching a production of Measure that has excised Mistress Overdone, Escalus and Elbow (amongst others) completely; whilst they all add to the proceedings, this version demonstrates that it is possible to present this play without them.
The narrative retains an aura of absurdity about it – it even ramps it up. A group in the audience of what I assumed to be drama and/or literature students struggled from time to time to keep up with proceedings, flitting their scripts of the full text back and forth. I mention this primarily because I deduced (not having a photographic memory myself of Measure from when I first read it some years ago) that this production has very likely not only omitted scenes but played around with the order of the scenes that remain.
It’s deliberately messy, though I suppose Measure isn’t really Measure unless it is – here, while much of the dialogue is spoken with more subtlety than would normally be expected for what has been served up as a fairly rowdy play, an analytical and impassioned conversation between Isabella (a compelling Rebecca Rogers) and Claudio (Luke de Belder) is left as a scene featuring classic Shakespeare at its best, riveting, rapid and loud. Despite being such a reductive production (I really must get over the fact that the whole thing has been compressed into one act), it doesn’t feel lacking or incomplete. The music, composed by Jack Sugden, plays a role in this, achieving an uncommon balance between making an impact and not sounding forced or distracting.
The bed trick is carried out upstage – those who have been to the Rose Playhouse know that ‘upstage’ is, thanks to the whole space being an archaeological site, some metres away from ‘downstage’; this cast’s projection from upstage is flawless – not universally the case at this theatre. I did think Blake Kubena’s Angelo could have been a little more sinister in tone – his denouncements and proclamations, while draconian, seemed too detached for an antagonist enjoying holding the reins of power.
This production cannot help but be immersive, with characters repeatedly breaching the fourth wall quite creatively, adding to the already riotous atmosphere. And the audience cannot help but respond in kind, which then piles on the entertainment value all the more; at the performance I attended, Angelo’s Act II Scene II rhetorical question, “What, do I love her [Isabella], / That I desire to hear her speak again” in the middle of a soliloquy was answered with an empathetic “Yes” – it was inappropriate and yet entirely appropriate at the same time. That my fellow audience member felt comfortable enough to reply in such a way is indicative of how warm and inviting this show is. To borrow a catchphrase made famous by Miranda Hart, “Such fun!”
It’s Lucio (Simon Rodda) who draws the most laughs of all. In the absence of clown Pompey from this version of Measure, his bachelor assertiveness is amplified. Matthew Darcy’s Duke Vincentio is suitably crafty, and Gemma Clough’s Mariana a convincingly jilted woman whose disappointment and anger was palpable.
Overall, in this economy-sized version of Measure for Measure, the losses are notable, for sure, but there’s still much to be enjoyed here. A welcome alternative rendering of a timeless play.
Review by Chris Omaweng
MEASURE FOR MEASURE BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Written by William Shakespeare
Presented by Heady Conduct
May 10, 2016 – May 29, 2016
Vienna has fallen into disarray, decadence and debauchery after decades of corrupt rule, with justice turning a blind eye. A chaotic city, full of hot heads and hot beds, driven by an alluring beat. The Duke has fled, appointing the cool headed, cold hearted Angelo to make things right. When Angelo sentences Claudio to death for breaking the law on his watch, Claudio’s virtuous sister Isabella is dragged from the nunnery to help, but Angelo’s autocracy begins to waver in the face of the enigmatic Isabella.
This chaotic, intoxicating and electrifying play sparks with life. The timeless themes of power, hypocrisy, sex, faith and justice continue to resonate today, as we celebrate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.
After the critically acclaimed success of their first production, RECKLESS, Heady Conduct bring Shakespeare’s dramatic tragi-comedy to the Rose Playhouse, fusing their distinct style and originality with the genius of Shakespeare’s writing.
“ Life…is a paradise, to what we fear of death.”
The Rose is an indoor archaeological site, it is advisable to dress with an extra layer as there is no heating. There are also no toilets so please use Shakespeare’s Globe just a few hundred metres away.