Sunday, 9 August 2015

'Measure for Measure' at Shakespeare's Globe

Another trip to the Globe last week, this time to see 'Measure for Measure' on a chilly evening for sitting in an outdoors theatre in August. It was a relief at half-time when I could finally put my jacket on and start warming up before night drew in.  I like the Globe and its atmosphere but it really ought to be warm and sultry of an evening when I'm there.

'Measure for Measure' is one of the 'problem plays' and is an example of where I have my own problems with the writing. It's another tale of a powerful man playing with people's lives simply because he can and I'm never that keen on things like that. In this case, the Duke of Vienna leaves the city in the hands of puritanical Angelo while hanging around diguised as a friar to see what happens. The Duke sees it as an interesting social experiment but he's playing with peeople's lives and some risk death.

The production had me smiling straight away with the play starting off amongst the crowded audience, with drunkards and bawds staggering around grabbing each other and going into the little bawdy houses that looked like painted sheds that had been wheeled in for the first few scenes. Shrieks and laughter and some of the bawdy-lasses climbing ladders to offer their wares to the people in the balcony. It was all great fun and a great example of the Globe using all its space for the performances. I suspect some of the audience were terribly puzzled but I loved it.

The play proper then began with the Duke handing over power to Angelo and leaving abruptly.We meet some of the shady characters like Mistress Overdone who runs the local brothel, Pompey with his slight Geordie accent who works as her pimp and Lucio who is a friend of Claudio and a fop who can't help getting into trouble. Claudio has been arrested under Angelo's new puritanical laws for fornication despite being married to the lady he's got pregnant (it's complicated).

Lucio visits Claudio's sister, Isabella, in the local nunnery to get her to intercede for her brother with Angelo which she does but Angelo gets inflamed with passion and wants her body for his own. He issues her with the ultimatum that she will sleep with him or her brother will die. This is one of the crucial scenes of the play when the puritanical Angelo gives in to his lusts and is on a par with the common soldiers who frequent the bawdy houses but he can hide it. Who would believe Isabella over him with his solid reputation? What is she to do? Protect her virtue at the expense of her brother's life?

Meanwhile we see the impact of Angelo's new regime as the bawdy-houses are closed and even Mistress Overdone is arrested. It's serious this time, a crack-down on the sin that Angelo despises while secretly giving in to his own sins. And this is where the friar comes into his own since he somehow knows that Angelo was bethrothed to Mariana but called off the wedding when the ship carrying her dowry sank and left her penniless. His plan is for her to pretend to be Isabella and sleep with Angelo as his wife and so save both Isabella's virtue and Claudio's life. Seems like a plan until we hear that Angelo has sent an order to the prison to kill Claudio anyway. O dear.

It's all terribly complicated and fast-paced, very colourful and funny in some scenes - I particularly liked constable Elbow who can't get anything right but wore the greatest swishing, baggy trews (you have to see him walking in them to understand). The boring people wore plain, dull clothes but the bawds brought colour to the stage, especially Mistress Overdone in her scarlet dress and Lucio in his green suit. I liked the bawds best - they were fun.

The set was, as ever at the Globe, quite simple, but I didn't quite get the carpets that were laid out on the stage and gradually removed as scens's changed. What was that about? The costumes were great, inventive and imaginative. I particularly liked Lucio's hat with its turquoise blue and green feathers that reminded me of Chris Lowe's jungle hat the last time I saw the Pet Shop Boys (I still want that hat).

I liked the performances but it must be difficult to play Angelo or Isabella since they're so dull and serious. Give me the others any day. I liked Dominic Rowan as the Duke and friar, Brendan O'Hea as the foppish Lucio with his mincing gait, Petra Massey as Mistress Overdone, Trevor Fox as Pompey and Dean Nolan as the daft Elbow.

Musing on it afterwards, I think it's the production I liked more than the play. It's on for another couple of months (not every night, obv) so go and see it if you can - it really is good fun and had even me laughing in places. And it ended with the a version of the usual dance, of course.

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