Measure for Measure Malaya

William Shakespeare
Sream Industry at the Riverside Studios
(2002)

Phil Wilmott's Steam Industry company is always guaranteed to come up with surprises. In this case, he has taken Measure for Measure, transferred the setting to colonial Malaya in the 1930s and created a very funny comedy.

The use of Malaya, in Kate Bannister and Karl Swinyard's set complete with hanging vines and lots of bamboo' works very well and is greatly enhanced by Hansjörg Schmidt's atmospheric lighting and Jon Fiber's sound design.

The hypocrisy of the original rings true as Angelo, played by Richard Dillane becomes a stiff upper-lipped district officer and the Duke/priest is a high commissioner and army chaplain. In this part, Andy De la Tour has a great time playing with the nerves and whims of the other characters as a kind of visible Deus ex Machina.

The setting in Malaya enables Wilmott to divide the characters between British and native. The authorities come from the ruling imperialists while the lovers and, perhaps significantly, all of the women are from the exploited underclass.

The other key player in this version is the Harry Enfield-like David Partridge who really hams up the part of Lucio. Dressed in hot weather army fatigues, he dives around the stage causing mayhem much to the amusement of the audience.

This is a very funny production and worthy of Phil Wilmott's high reputation, with his usual great inventiveness and fast pace. The comedy does sometimes come at the expense of some of Shakespeare's more dramatic moments and poetry. This is not a disaster as the new take on an old tale provides great accessibility and some fresh insights. It also makes some very pithy comments on British colonialism.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher