Extreme Measures In Measure For Measure
Shakespeare’s notoriously problematic comedy Measure for Measure is unceremoniously ripped from its Viennese setting in the Young Vic’s new production by maverick director Joe Hill-Gibbins.
Placed instead in a stark, neon world created by Miriam Buether the production has the feel of a low-budget documentary/reality show where the protagonists are followed around by cameras. The visually striking set incorporates a metal-framed box lit by strip lighting and a huge pile of blow up sex dolls. Half the action takes place literally off stage, footage of the actors behind closed doors projected onto a wall at the back of the stage.
Zubin Varla is a slightly bland version of Duke Vincento of Vienna who leaves the city in the hands of the moralistic young Angelo (Paul Ready). Intent on eliminating vice and corruption Angelo declares that anyone caught fornicating outside marriage will be put to death. Romola Garai gives a world-class performance as Isabella, a virginal nun, who pleads with Angelo on her condemned brother, Claudio’s (Ivanno Jeremiah) behalf but, hypocritically, he will only agree to save Claudio if Isabella will sleep with him. Garai has intense emotional control over the verse perfectly capturing Isabella’s fervour and virtuosity.
Grimy, aggressive and unashamedly modern Hill-Gibbins production is in many ways a triumph. Cynical but fun, thought-provoking but weirdly sexy some of his choices are inspired. Brothel owner Pompey (Tom Edden) is modernised into the hilarious stereotype of a sleazy American pimp complete with Hawaiian shirt and drug habit. Angelo’s estranged fiancé Mariana (Cath Whitefield) is made delightfully crazy with an iPhone playing cheesy love songs constantly pressed to her ear.
Despite huge strengths there is a spark of finesse missing from a production which tries to crowbar sense into one of Shakespeare’s unlikeliest of plots. The high-tech staging detracts too much from the verse, and although Garai rises above it, many of the supporting cast are lost in the sea of sex dolls.
Measure for Measure is on at the Young Vic until 14 November. Tickets £10-£35. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 09 October 2015