As the action begins I am comfortably sat at a table with a cheese board and a gin and tonic. How have the Company made the church seem so big this time? Didn’t there used to be pews either side of a narrow aisle? How have they done it? The space is transformed and the audience is spread over the whole central area. There is no obvious focal point; there are at least five separate stages.
The play begins with the Duke of Vienna (in this version a female Duke, Vincentia, played by Esther McAuley) handing over power to Lord Angela (Hannah Edwards) while she travels to Poland. In fact, she remains in Vienna disguised as a nun so she can observe how Angela governs the city. Angela is a strict ruler who decides that there is too much freedom in the city and decides to get rid of the brothels and unlawful sexual activity. Master Overdone (Michael Sheldon) bumps into Lucio (Matt Pinches) and tells him that a young man called Claudio has been arrested and is to be beheaded for getting his girlfriend pregnant. When Lucio visits Claudio in prison he asks him to go to his brother, Isabello who is a novice priest and to ask him to go to Angela and beg for his life. When Isabello appeals to Angela she tells him that she will save Claudio if he (Isabello) agrees to have sex with her. The crux of the play lies in Angela’s hypocrisy and abuse of power.
After the interval six of the actors swap gender roles and the story is replayed from the beginning. Four hundred years after it was written I still felt the power abuse seemed more believable when Duke Angelo (Graeme Dalling) was threatening Isabella (Hannah Edwards) than it did in the gender-swapped version, although I could also imagine a woman who found herself in a position of power abusing her position. Perhaps the biggest change is that
when Isabella asks who would believe her story, I definitely thought ‘I would’. We are so used to ‘me too’ stories these days, it seems bizarre that in Shakespeare’s day an innocent nun would not be believed Measure for Measure is quite a short play but performed back to back like this takes about two and half hours and I am not sure that the plot is sufficiently detailed to hold the audience’s attention for that long. It is billed as a comedy, but Measure for Measure is no Midsummer Night’s Dream; there are few really good laughs. However, there are some fantastic comic performances here. Co-founders Sarah Gobran and Matt Pinches are as wonderful as ever, Sarah showing her versatility, playing two parts the serious Provost and the hilariously bawdy Tapster Pompey. Michael Sheldon and Victoria Willing are also fabulous as Master/ Mistress Overdone the brothel keepers. Jack Whitam has a quiet first half but is masterful as Duke Vincentio in the second half.
The sexual power politics exposed in this play are really quite fascinating. We can condemn Angela/Angelo for pursuing their own agendas and then disregarding their own rules when it suits them but can we really be sure we would behave better if we thought we could get away with it. A very thought-provoking evening, with some laugh-out-loud moments and great cheese.
Review by Sally Knipe
“The tempter, or the tempted, who sins most?” The Duke hands power to his deputy to reimpose laws that have grown too lax. A young man is sentenced to death for getting his sweetheart pregnant out of wedlock. His sister, a novice nun, pleads to the deputy for her brother’s life. When he demands sex in return for her brother’s freedom, she threatens to expose him…but who will believe her if she does?
Director & Adaptor Charlotte Conquest
Designer Neil Irish
Lighting Mark Dymock
Sound & Composer Matt Eaton
Assistant Director Indiana Lown-Collins
Associate Designer Anett Black
Vocal Coach Sterre Maier
Company Stage Manager Beth Mann
Production Manager Chris Wilson
Deputy Stage Manager Cat Mackenzie
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
4-23 February 2019
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford High Street
Evenings 7.30pm | Matinees 2.30pm
No Performances Sundays |
Running Time approx. 2 hrs 40 mins (including interval)