Measure for Measure – Shakespeare at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

I’m not quite sure why we decided to book tickets for this production as we went thinking we didn’t like the play and, despite the excellent reviews, no expectations of an enjoyable evening.

Still, money was spent on tickets so along we went…and I’m so glad we did.

The last time we saw this play was 2003, in the middle of the Complete Works festival/programme sandwiched between some more frivolous and fun productions. It was in the old Royal Shakespeare Theatre, which was a more traditional stage and so you watched the play rather than being engaged with it.

This production was set in 1900s Vienna and brought it within a period of moral ambiguity we have some resonance with. And this is a morally ambiguous play. There are no clear goodies or baddies here.

Lucy Phelps, Sandy Grierson and Antony Byrne were excellent as Isabella, Angelo and Duke of Vienna. You could understand why Angelo and the Duke would fall in love with Isabella and empathise with her anguish trying to do the right thing for her and her doomed brother.

The set worked to emphasise the ambiguity too, with mirrors along the back of the stage that sometimes reflected back and at others could be seen through.

The humour was provided by Lucio, who said what he thought people wanted to hear, Elbow the constable with his malapropisms and the bawdy house scenes. I don’t know the play well enough but I suspect some of their sub-plot stories had been trimmed from the play to arrive at the compact production we saw.

My one niggle with the production was some of the diction. When actors were turned away from me I struggled to hear the lower pitched voices. This may be because I’m more used to the smaller Swan Theatre and it’s acoustics. It may be, in part, due to problems with my left ear but…

Overall, I loved this version of the play. I’d go and see it again if I get the chance. And I recommend anyone who wants a play that makes them think and provokes discussion go see it.


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