Measure for Measure
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Measure for Measure is a remarkably topical play with its depiction of the sexual abuse of women and the oppressive misuse of State power, but this production directed by Blanche McIntyre tilts the play towards broad comedy. At times you feel the context is not so much the advertised 1970s in general but rather a raucous television programme such as The Benny Hill Show.
A policeman chases Pompey (Eloise Secker) around the stage waving a dildo, the executioner drags a huge axe that gets trapped by any object in its path, Elbow (Daniel Miller) the constable carries a battery-powered megaphone that seems to have a life of its own and Barnardine (Ishia Bennison) gets huge applause and laughter for drunkenly refusing to be executed.
It's as if the director doesn’t trust audiences to be interested in the social implications of the scenes and so tries to make do with slapstick knockabout fun.
Even the main characters give the audience things to laugh at. That includes a moment when Judge Angelo is coercing Isabella into a sexual encounter and a scene where the Duke disguised as a friar tells Juliet (Eloise Secker) that her lover is to be executed.
The Duke, played in this production as a woman by Hattie Ladbury, tends to overshadow the other characters. She has nothing of the menace we might expect of a character who is at times cruelly manipulating others. Instead, she initially seems quite light-headed, almost giddy when Angelo first speaks to her and a little later when she is phoning a friar.
Not only do we see no threat or danger in her gentle role of benevolence, but we are also given indications of her romantic interest in Isabella, an interest that the final scene suggests might be mutual.
Georgia Landers gives a clear, sympathetic performance as Isabella that leaves us in no doubt she is a sincere woman abused by Judge Angelo. Ashley Zhangazha's Angelo initially seems awkward and insecure but, following the Duke’s departure, he becomes stiff, mechanical and often rushed in his speech.
There are some fine, distinctive moments in this production such as the Duke’s sideways glance of insecurity at Isabella hugging Mariana (Eloise Secker) and the sudden terror of Angelo ripping a candle from Isabella’s hand.
However, I couldn't help but feel that the director was shying away from the crucial themes of social injustice for something lighter, funnier and much more conservative.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna