Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Measure for Measure, Bell Shakespeare, Aug 9, 2005

 Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare   
Bell Shakespeare
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, August 9 to 2, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

John Bell's production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is a theatrical delight that is successful on every level.

It boasts an accomplished cast, intelligent and compelling direction, imaginative design and makes the Elizabethan dialogue and concepts crystal clear to the modern ear.

It is known as a "problem play" but is also called a tragicomedy because, although it is a comedy with broad, bawdy content and a happy and romantic outcome, it deals with serious issues.

Written in 1604 during the reign of James 1, it debates the issues of morality, justice, hypocrisy and self-sacrifice

The Duke of Vienna, (Sean O'Shea) departs his decadent city, leaving it under the iron-fisted rule of his conservative deputy, Angelo. (Christopher Stollery).

The Duke avoids his responsibilities by departing Vienna but secretly observes the outcome of his experiment by disguising himself as a Friar.

What transpires is that the rigid and puritanical Angelo adheres to the letter of the law against fornication by condemning to death young Claudio (Timothy Walter) for making pregnant his fiancee, Juliet. (Michelle Doake).

Claudio's devout sister, Isabella, (Tamsin Carroll) a nun, is asked by Claudio's raffish friend, Lucio, (Matthew Moore) to petition Angelo for Claudio's pardon.

Instead, the frozen heart of Angelo heats with lusts for Isabella and he promises to spare Claudio if Isabella sleeps with him.

The play requires intense concentration to comprehend the complex arguments presented by all parties to support their respective positions.

Isabella's suit to Angelo is long and imaginatively argued. Angelo's subsequent argument is equally compelling.

The Duke, still in disguise, convinces his loyal Councillor, Escalus, (Robert Alexander) to stay Claudio's execution. The Duke then manipulates everyone in the final scene in which he reveals his identity and exposes Angelo's dirty deeds.

The lusty, degenerate Vienna is vividly depicted in the bawdy scenes opening the play and the second half. Robert Kemp's design, blending classical architecture and modern clutter, is evocative.

O'Shea is compelling as the reticent Duke who grows into his authority. Stollery is commanding as Angelo and Alexander a sensitive Escalus.

Moore makes charming the rogue, Lucio, and  Darren Gilshenan is hilariously credible as the cheeky pimp, Pompey. Carroll's composure and grace as Isabella make her rivetting.

This is an exciting and delightful production of a play that deserves more attention in the modern repertoire.

By Kate Herbert

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