Measure for Measure

  • Theatre
  • Drama
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Scott Rylander
Daisy Ward as Isabella

Phil Willmott usually trades in obscure and contested Shakespeares, making decent cases for plays dismissed as the Bard on a bad day.

There’s no hiding behind ‘Measure for Measure’. Next to ‘King John’ or – God help us – last year’s Elizabethan dud ‘Fair Em’, it looks downright populist, but its knotty, plotty complexity and moral ambiguity make it a big ask. Wilmott straightens out the story’s skeleton, but can’t flesh it out with nuance or insight.

He sets it in a woozy Weimar wonderland. You expect Sally Bowles herself to burst out of Mistress Overdone’s brothel, so, with the Duke (Nicholas Osmond) taking an impulsive sabbatical, his do-good deputy Angelo steps in to clean up the streets.

Paul Critoph’s Angelo is earnest, overweight and unworldly; a bit prudish, sure, but given population-wide prostitution, not unreasonably so. Even when he jumps Isabella (Daisy Ward), a virginal woman campaigning against her brother Claudio’s impending execution, you still feel slightly sorry for him. He seems less a hypocrite, than a human trying his best and momentarily losing control.

Critoph has a natural ability to spin verse into sense, but he only leads half of the play. The rest belongs to Osmond and Ward, who versify by rote and rhythm. Their Duke-Isabella scenes have nothing at stake. Osmond’s chipper as a man on vacation, while Ward pleads for her brother’s life like an undergraduate taking a viva: chuffed with her case, but untouched by emotion.

Despite some characterful cameos, all this leaves ‘Measure’ muddied and lopsided. When you’re rooting for the antagonist, something’s amiss.

By Matt Trueman

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Average User Rating

4.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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J Adams

This was a fantastic production of this very difficult play. excellent vibrant cast > the venue is intimate but just perfect for this play .you are close to the actors and therefore close to the language. Definitely go and see this.

Neal Wright

Strong cast, loved the set, worth going to see - well done to everyone involved in the production.

Henry Arnold

I'm no thesp, but I thought I should speak up for this one.. Measure for Measure is by no means an easy play, but neither is it one that you are likely to see staged very often. Frankly, even if it is the Bard on a bad day, that kinda makes me more interested, and for this reason alone this is worth exploring, just to see how it handles the challenge. The production itself is accessible, lively, intimate, and sitting through three acts was remarkably easy and enjoyable. I agree with the previous reviewer overall - for those of us less than up on our Shakespeare, this is a good place to start.


I went to see this on Friday night and I'm not sure we saw the same show, Matt. I thought it was excellent. The production made fantastic use of the space and the actors spoke the language brilliantly. I must admit my benchmark was quite high having seen the Globe production about 10 years ago but Phil Wilmott's production showed me a side to the play I had not seen before. Angelo's crisis of "faith" was wonderful as he basically came across as the guy who never gets the girl and so had to resort to blackmail but his fragility in this was beautiful to watch. I had always read this character as quite puritanical so to see the gentler side really made his conflict quite sad and tragic. It was, however, lovely to see him get his comeuppance. Lucio was fantastic and I would happily watch that young actor on stage any day of the week. Measure for Measure is seen as one of the problem plays but I thought this production brought the humour and the humility equally. The supporting cast in this production really made the roles their own which is no mean feat in this play. i would thoroughly recommend this production to anyone who is quite scared of Shakespeare as his cast are excellent when it comes to understanding the text which makes it very easy to follow. The unusual staging also makes it more accessible as the audience are very much a part of it. A fine evening out.

Phil Willmott

Dear Matt, Thanks for giving Measure for Measure your consideration but really what an odd review. You criticise the performers for bravely bringing out exactly the character flaws that make it such a rich and nuanced play. There IS nothing at stake for the Duke, that's the point of his character, it's quite simply an intellectual holiday game for him, he could stop things at any moment as he freely admits to Isabella at the end when he apologises for not stepping in to stop her brothers execution. And the fact that Isabella argues like an undergraduate without the worldliness or flexibility to grasp the human implications - isn't that the whole point of her character? I'm glad you admire Paul's performance as Angelo as much as I do and approve of my unconventional casting but I'd have thought the fact that the production allows you to see him as sympathetic whilst exploring the flaws in his adversaries, certainly our intention, makes it a very nuanced production. Do you really need to identify characters as being either antagonist or hero? I only argue my corner because I worry that in criticising the production and actors for bringing out the very things that make it such a fascinating and complex play and only giving it a meagre 3 stars you'll deter people from from seeing it. Which would be a real shame. Perhaps you went along with your mind already made up having disliked my production of Fair Em so much. In the circumstances it would be inappropriate for me to add a star rating but the time out software won't publish this unless I do so... I'm going to give my actors five stars. I think they do an amazing job.