A mound of blow-up sex dolls fills the stage, actors emerge from the tangle of PVC limbs… it feels more Soho that Shakespeare. It didn’t take long for a few people to walk out.
Forget the cheeky puns and uproarious innuendoes with which Mistress Overdone’s brothel is usually brought to life on stage. Joe Hill-Gibbin’s bold take on Measure for Measure puts sleaze and smut centre stage.
It is the production and the design that shake up Shakespeare’s text. A stark stage is split into three with the action in the centre and peripheral characters Lucio and Mariana laying prostate either side, reminding us of the unsatisfactory loose threads and unresolved issues in this most problematic of comedies.
An illuminating ‘backstage’ space, revealed through cameras is a masterstroke. Harsh interrogation lights and camcorder close-ups, change the viewing experience: it feels invasive, exploitative.
But , while the production succeeds in bringing something new to the play and deftly revealing the problems of the, it also lacks much of what makes it entertaining.
The tension is cranked up right from the offset. Angelo’s opening speech about going to live among his people, an unremarkable plot devise, is delivered with full-blown, in-yer-face ferocity. The selfie camcorder shows every bit of spittle. It feels too much too soon.
Measure for Measure has some of Shakespeare's most jubilant jokes, as celebrated in Dominic Dromgoole's recent production at Globe.
But here the sustained intensity stifles the silliness of the comedy. Pompey (Tom Edden) is the exception, delivering Shakespeare’s puns with dryly-funny Woody Allen type awkwardness.
The force of the interpretation also crushes the most moving moments: when Romola Garai’s poised, powerful Isabella hears her brother has been killed, she wields a sex doll in despair.
Tenuous at the best of times, the comedic conventions of the play's ending are mocked in a smartly self-referential, deeply uncomfortable rush of contentious resolution.
In its own way, this Measure for Measure is exhilarating, but the most dramatic moments — Isabella’s desperate pleading, Angelo’s proposition, the judgement and the titular ‘measure for measure’ morality speech — are the dullest to watch.
|What||Measure for Measure, Young Vic: review|
|Where||The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Southwark (underground)|
01 Oct 15 – 14 Nov 15, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Young Vic website|