Emma Vince looks at the dichotomy between corruption and purity in her review of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, which was recently showing at Chapter Arts Centre.
The audience walk straight into the underbelly of Vienna with the auditorium transformed into a brothel. A couple of semi-naked girls and a corseted Mistress Overdone offer their services to men and jobs to the women in the front two rows. It set the tone of playfulness for the base characters of the play, but also an awkwardness with many audience members not knowing where to look.
Measure for Measure explores many dark themes through the morals of its three main characters, who all gave authoritative performances despite their young age. Vienna’s Duke of dark corners, played by Charlie Withers, is introduced in a white military jacket, with his broad frame and shaved head giving him authority over the smaller, boyish Angelo. James Davies’ Angelo looked out of his depth from the start, ‘dressed in a little brief authority’ and an ill-
Angelo soon transforms from a young, grateful man, to a tyrant, enforcing Vienna’s neglected laws with full force, eager to prove himself. His encounter with Isabella sees him transform from a calm, cold authority figure into frantic, hypocritical, would-
Lottie Davies played the role of virginal nun coveting restraint well. In an age where audiences most likely do not value virginity and religion in the same way, Lottie managed to evoke sympathy from a difficult character. Her obliviousness to Angelo’s proposition at first and his following violent outburst positioned her as victim. O’Neal interpreted Isabella’s silence from Shakespeare’s original Measure for Measure text in the final Act to be not in favour of the Duke’s marriage proposal. Her disgusted response leaves both him and the audience with no doubt that she’s sticking to her morals and will be returning to the nunnery, probably keeping away from men for as long as she can.
The comic scenes with the base characters are few and far between, but the cast do well with Shakespeare’s original scenes, which make little-
One other notable performance was Joy-
The final act of Measure for Measure was handled well with a lingering, melancholic ending suited to one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’, and which questioned the fragile happy ending. The ‘happy couples’ were left on stage as the eerie soundtrack grew louder. Lucio, our comic companion throughout, is last to leave the stage, silent and grim after being condemned to death. A steep price for slandering a prince, his sentence raises doubt that with the Duke’s return, justice really will be reinstated.