A/V Room









Talented cast has the Measure of Shakespeare classic

Review by Oli Burley

EVERY so often a play comes along that is spot-on in artistic judgement and execution of character.

Measure for Measure may lack the big-name clout of Romeo and Juliet or Much Ado About Nothing, but it is the most satisfying offering in the Globe’s Season of Star-Crossed Lovers.

It is difficult to find fault with John Dove’s version of the ‘problem play’, not least as the actors clearly revel in the work’s moral arguments, enlivened in part by expert choreography.

Unlike the RSC’s attempt, last year, to shoehorn the action into the 1940s, this is an uncluttered, traditional practices production that thrives on Shakespeare’s linguistic brilliance.

All credit then to the Globe’s artistic director, Mark Rylance, who excels as the second-rate, weedy Duke Vincentio, a man whose lax rule has allowed Vienna’s laws to degenerate.

After handing authority to his deputy, Angelo (Liam Brennan), Vincentio watches events unfold disguised as a friar, who Rylance plays with an endearing mix of paternity and ineptitude.

Brennan’s performance is equally masterful and, for the first time in the Season, it feels like the A-list actors are on show.

The Scot is devilishly awesome as he strictly reinforces the law, condemning Alex Hassell’s much-aggrieved Claudio to death for getting lover, Juliet (Liana Weafer), pregnant.

But Angelo’s resolve bends, then turns to sin when faced by Claudio’s chaste sister, Isabella, played by the immaculate and deliberate Sophie Thompson.

Temptation creates dramatic tension as Angelo forces Isabella to decide whether her virginity is worth more than her brother’s life.

With the undercover Vincentio striving to save both, it is only in the grand final scene that the cast can be sure whether or not this emotional and political power-struggle can be resolved.

It is a climax almost stolen by the fantastic Lucio (Colin Hurley), whose garish yellow outfit draws attention to an even more outrageous self-importance.

Hurley is the ideal link between the court and the backdrop of seedy city life, where brothel-owner, Mistress Overdone (Peter Shorey), and her servant, Pompey (John Dougall), have licence to ridicule man’s sexual frailty.

Their frank and comical exposure of human weakness is balanced by an odious depiction of women as commodities that is mirrored by Angelo’s treatment of Isabella and his forsaken wife-to-be, Mariana (Hilary Tones).

These are weighty issues and where Dove truly triumphs is in his ability to convey them in an engaging, yet challenging manner, that never threatens to undermine their significance.

Our photo shows: Isabella (Sophie Thompson) and Vincentio (Mark Rylance). Picture by: John Tramper

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