Nottingham Theatre Royal – until 1 March 2020
Reviewed by Louise Ford
Measure for Measure; The tempter or the tempted ,who sins the most?
The RSCs national tour stages Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in Vienna in the 1900s. A city beset with loose morals, crime and full of brothels. The Duke of Vienna (Anthony Byrne) unable to keep control of the city hands over the reigns of power to his deputy Angelo (Sandy Grierson) and that’s when things start to get out of control. Introducing and enforcing strict laws against lewd behaviour he attempts to clean up the city. He threatens to demolish all of the city’s brothels, including the one run by Mistress Overdone (Graeme Brookes) and her pimp Pompey (David Ajao). Under the new criminal laws Claudio (James Cooney) is sentenced to death for getting his girlfriend, Juliet (Amy Trigg) pregnant. Isabella (Lucy Phelps), Claudio’s sister learns of her brother’s fate from his friend Lucio (Joseph Arkley). Isabella visits Angelo to plead for her brother’s life. Angelo makes a proposition, and so begins his down fall.
The setting of 1900s Vienna is an interesting one, a mixture of military uniforms, Edwardian tightly buttoned suits, spats, and the more relaxed dress of the ladies in the brothels. The colour palette of the costumes is beautifully muted, shades of grey, pale blue, dark blue and brown contrasted with the red and black for ladies in the brothels. With more than a nod to the Freudian undercurrents of sexual repression, public hypocrisy and the conflict between the church and the secular world.
The play opens with a pared back set with a background of a hall of mirrors and a gantry. With very clever lighting (Simon Spencer, lighting director) the space is effortlessly transformed to a ballroom, an abbey, a prison and a railway station.
The first half of the play takes a little while to get going, however the pace picks up and the second half seems to fly by. This production has a gloriously mixed cast, with some of the roles switched between genders, in particular Escalus played by Claire Price and Amanda Harris as Provost.
The stand out roles are, for me, Pompey, Mistress Overdone’s pimp, (David Ajao) with his swagger and wit and Lucio, a fantasist (Joseph Arkley) who is a very dapper seducer and man about town whose tales and lack of loyalty are his undoing. The cast is also a confident mixture of accents, physical abilities and colour, which does not impact on the tale and really should be the norm.
The subject matter is not an easy watch, as a comedy, in the #MeToo era and the recent prosecutions for sexual intimidation and the abuse of power. But as we all know power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely