Measure for Measure

Theatre, Shakespeare
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith PattisonRomola Garai
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith PattisonIvanno Jeremiah and Zubin Varla
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith Pattison
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith Pattison
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith PattisonNatalie Simpson and Zubin Varla
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith PattisonPaul Ready and Romola Garai
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith PattisonRomola Garai and Pau Ready
 (© Keith Pattison)
© Keith PattisonSarah Malin and Tom Edden

Romola Garai shines in a splendidly smutty Shakespeare that's not for the easily offended

Director Joe Hill-Gibbins is the horny mad scientist of the theatre world: he takes classic plays, smashes them to smithereens, smears them in smut, then rebuilds them in fantastical, hysterical forms.

He is the perfect director to tackle Shakespeare’s problematic ‘Measure for Measure’, set in a seedy Vienna in which the Duke has absconded, leaving his puritanical deputy Angelo to clamp down with sharia-like ferocity on public sexual morality. Angelo condemns the well-liked Claudio to death for fathering a child outside of wedlock; but when Claudio’s beautiful nun sister Isabella pleads for his life, the power-crazed Angelo demands her virginity as the price.

Joe Hill-Gibbins responds to this in the most Joe Hill-Gibbins way possible: by cutting about an hour out of the play, and almost entirely filling Miriam Buether’s set with blow-up sex dolls. Seriously: there must be about 40 of the things littering the stage. They are, for the most part, hilarious, an absurd mound of plastic faux-flesh that the Viennese must awkwardly negotiate, eventually shovelling them away to a back room that’s relayed to the stage by camera. The dolls are the perfect visual metaphor for the impossibility of denying something as fundamental as sex. They are also just inherently funny, regardless of meaning, as are many of Hill-Gibbins’s innovations, most notably a side-splittingly funny and kiiiiiind of unnecessary sequence paying glorious homage to early ’90s hip hop videos.

Oh, and there are also some actors doing some Shakespeare. They’re pretty good, too. In this murky Vienna almost everyone is compromised, from Zubin Varla’s sweaty, hysterical Duke Vincentio and Paul Ready’s’s Angelo – a dull functionary unable to cope with absolute power – to Ivanno Jeremiah’s hard-partying Claudio, who pounces selfishly on the possibility of his sister yielding her maidenhead. It is only Romola Garai’s excellent Isabella who rises above all this: unlike the others, she seems to genuinely have no suppressed sexual desires. She is her own woman through and through, and she speaks with a stern, unadorned, Old Testament power that cuts through the hypocritical intrigues of the men around her.

Of the characters that have survived Hill-Gibbins’s edit, most are interesting; not all mesh with the production as a whole; sometimes the production as a whole stalls as a weird visual gag gets in the way of the Shakespeare, or the Shakespeare gets in the way of a weird gag. But this ‘Measure for Measure’ works, a madcap satire on the impossibility of denying sex. Joe Hill-Gibbins throws a lot of things at the wall – many unmentionable in a family publication – and most of them stick.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


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4.5 / 5

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1 of 1 found helpful

Absolutely brilliant - a standing ovation on the first preview isn't a bad start to a run.  I've managed to see most plays at the Young Vic over the past few years but think only A View from The Bridge was better than this.  An extremely now production very reminiscent of the best of modern theatre with some excellent performances (particularly from Romola Garai), Shakespeare's themes on corruption and the hypocrisy of power are still as relevant as ever.  Go see.

0 of 1 found helpful

A curious rendering of a most curious Shakespearean comedy. Being a 'problem play', because its dark and troubling tone does not match its resoundingly cheerful ending, one might emerge from this modern version saying, "How curious", and also be curious as to what has happened, because the language is sometimes a little too fast witted for a foolish gentleman of fourscore pound a year such the the hypothetical one I'm now describing who is certainly not me. 

No, the Young Vic's Measure for Measure is a good play and very visually exciting. Some might say arousing, if blow up dolls and the forced sullying of virginal nuns are their kind of thing. Freaks. Music bits are used to explain the predicaments and emotions of characters in a more modern way, which at first is jarring but becomes funny and actually gets across the point quite well. 

The Woody Allen-esque Tom Edden was dazzling as the unrepentant pimp Pompey, while Romola Garai gave a powerful performance in the difficult role of the tormented maiden Isabella. Paul Ready looked too much like an English Patient era Ralph Fiennes for me to focus on his acting, but that's my problem, not his.