Measure for Measure
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A surprisingly light 'Measure' from Shakespeare's Globe boss
As the clock ticks down on his final year as the Globe’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole puts flesh on the bones of one of Shakespeare’s most philosophically dense plays in a production that gives us light as well as shade.
At the heart of ‘Measure for Measure’ is a pretty horrendous conundrum: will the virtuous Isabella (Mariah Gale) sacrifice her honour and sleep with Angelo (Kurt Egyiawan), the corrupt, deputised governor of Vienna, to save her brother Claudio (a suitably tense Joel MacCormack) from execution?
Justice, in all its forms, is front and centre here, as Shakespeare debates its role in public life and its abuse – countering the hollow Angelo’s heartless following of the law in condemning Vienna’s citizens with the hypocrisy of his private actions.
The scenes between Isabella and Angelo are rhetorically weighty, demanding our full attention as the question of mercy becomes a touchstone for the entire play. Gale’s agonised reaction as Isabella realises the trap she’s walked into is superb. She etches the pain of her dilemma across her speeches.
But while Gale and Egyiawan bring real emotional charge to their wordy roles, it’s in the rest of Vienna’s gossipy society that Dromgoole’s production really sings. They’re the vibrant backdrop to the elaborate machinations (and bedchamber substitutions) of a plot which, frankly, doesn’t bear too much scrutiny.
Dromgoole plays the Globe’s space with ease, dropping various heckling drunkards, rogues and prostitutes among the groundlings. The oil-and-water interactions between Dominic Rowan’s Duke Vincentio, the absentee ruler of Vienna (disguised as a friar), and Trevor Fox’s puffed-up, oblivious Pompey are a particular delight.
This colourfully presented cast of characters serve to bring warmth to the play’s musings. Rather than jarring with its darker themes, they are the tumble of life missing from Angelo’s suffocating rules and strictures. Measure for measure, laugh for laugh, they are the ones that carry us along.