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Measure for Measure

William Shakespeare
Baseless Fabric Theatre Company
Lunchbox Theatre at the Bridewell
(2007)

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A lunch menu seasoned with a stimulating play may prove to be the panacea to work-related-stress.

Joanna Turner's 45 minutes production of Measure for Measure provides an inspired core of this intriguing play. There is no scenery to change. The stage is bare of any frills, black dominates the backdrop on all sides, leaves the focus on the characters and performance of the nine actors, some of them double in minor roles.

The complex moral issues raised by the storyline are simplified, yet manage to whet one's interest in the play where the Duke (Robert Maskell) entrusts his city in the hands of Angelo (Richard Marks). The Duke departs hastily, only to return as a friar. This new guise provides him with an opportunity to watch from close quarters Angelo's ideas of justice and intervene in time to prevent a gross miscarriage.

Angelo, determined not to make 'a scarecrow of the law' hastens to condemn to death Claudio (George Dalton) for impregnating his fiancée, Juliet (Aimee Berwick).

Marks impresses with his youth and good looks which camouflage his merciless and ruthless character. His true moral fibre is exposed by the plain but virtuous Isabella (Nicki Walsh), Claudio's sister.

Isabella, a novice nun, is called by Claudio's friend the indispensable Lucio (Peter Rae) to go before Angelo and plead for mercy. Rae's performance compensates for much of the full text's comical relief omitted in this production.

Turner's production centres on justice and mercy. The Duke is introduced as a wise and almost infallible ruler with his wits about him to employ stratagems to secure the ultimate result, namely justice. Lucio alone manages to rattle and vex him, thereby exposing an aspect of his frailty.

Walsh's portrayal of Isabella is interesting. She is petit and austere in her stern expression. She seemed out of place outside the nunnery. When facing Angelo she is totally oblivious to his looks and convincingly confines herself to the purpose of her visit, to plead for her brother's life. Angelo's lust for Isabella is clearly a desire for the forbidden fruit; her virtue rather than her looks turns him on. The momentary physical struggle (directed by Roger Bartlett) between the two encapsulate his vice and her strong mettle. This confrontation leads convincingly to her resolve to let her brother die rather than sacrifice her virginity. Her emotional encounter and physical struggle with imprisoned Claudio is short but powerful. She does not come across as hysterical, but as a resolved, indefatigable individual.

The Duke confides in Isabella that she could assist him to resolve Angelo's pernicious demand in also redressing another gross injustice carried out by Angelo. Mariana (Kas Darley), was betrothed to Angelo who abandoned her once the news that her dowry was lost at sea reached him. This scene was somewhat too compressed. However Darley's impressive performance as the loyal and loving fiancé, particularly in the last scene, seals the encounter convincingly.

The Baseless Fabric Theatre Company provides an engaging drama by making the storyline clear so as to allow the abridged version speak for itself.

This is excellent value for money and it is unfortunate that it has a very short run, until 2nd March.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson