Dominic Dromgoole chose a challenge for his last production as Artistic Director of The Globe. Measure For Measure is easily most problematic of Shakespeare's problem plays. The brothels, bear-baiting and bartering over virginity jar with modern audiences. Throw in sweltering 30 degree heat without the shade of a roof and the Globe's Measure for Measure could easily wilt.
Happily, the quality of the performance plus Dromgoole's pithy direction makes the bawdy comedy buzz with plenty of innuendoed actions and cheek (literally - there's a bare bottom).
Measure for Measure: themes of vice and virtue
The play's exploration of virtue and vice reflect the 2015 Globe season’s themes of justice and mercy: as Angelo's quest to rid Vienna of sexual impropriety leads him to sentence Claudio to death, the comedy dwells on the hypocrisy and corruption of power. And the immorality that shapes the comedy is not abstract: the Vienna setting is a thin disguise for Shakespeare’s Jacobean London, and there are several explicit references to the bear baiting pits and brothels that would have surrounded the original Globe Theatre.
Such iniquity gives a firm context for gags, but in bringing out the comedy, Dromgoole doesn't compromise the complexity; they come hand in hand. We laugh along with a brawling prostitutes as she milks being dragged off to jail, but gasp as her incarceration starts with brutal blow to the head.
Top class performances
There's plenty of lively clowning (that stayed sharp despite heavy costumes and stifling heat) and delightfully silly physical theatre, but it is Mariah Gale as the sharp, suffering Isabella who really brings out the depth of the script. Not only does she make the far-fetched conflict of a virtuous novice nun forced to choose between her virginity and her brother's life truly moving, Gale also alludes to the contention of her character's comedic ending. When Isabella's self-possession is once again threatened by the marriage proposal of the 'good guy' Duke, a brilliantly understated hands to head movement enacted the exasperation you cant help but feel at this uncomfortable ending.
As the Duke Dominic Rowan was just as impressive. He exuded charm and conviviality when disguised as a Friar, then gave a very nuanced portrayal of a ruler as likeable as he is reprehensible.
|What||Measure for Measure, The Globe|
|Where||The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
20 Jun 15 – 17 Oct 15, Performance times to be confirmed.
|Website||Click here for more information from the Globe's website|