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Measure for Measure | Factory Space Theatre Company
Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke   
Tuesday, 05 May 2009 21:14
Measure for Measure | Factory Space Theatre CompanyAh, the 'problem' play. Well, one of them. So deemed, by those who supposedly know, long after it's birth, in the very early 17th century, I imagine. Happily, Factory Space's production, at the beautiful, undersung Star of The Sea, at Manly, didn't highlight any such thing.

Dirty deeds, done dirt-cheap; duplicity; subterfuge; espionage; justice; white and other lies; deceit; mercy; compassion. All this, and more! 'Some rise by sin and some, by virtue, fall' is, arguably, the line on which the entire play pivots. Whatever it's other origins (for Shakespeare, too, had his influences), there seems to be good evidence it was inspired by the bible; specifically, the 'new' testament, in Matthew, chapter 7, verse 2, which, as you no doubt readily recall, reads 'For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.'

It's a pretty persuasive argument for best-practice, quality-assured justice, I think you'll agree.

Incidentally, it's also worthy of note that certain scholars believe Bill's work has been tampered with, by Thomas Middleton, who, apart from creating some seams and scars in the text itself, moved it from Italy, to Vienna.

Write your own location, but I, for one, believe the passions that are inflamed suit, say, Roman sensibilities & dispositions more readily and redolently than Teutonic ones. Then again, I'm not the director. Roz Riley is; or was, since by the time you read this, the season, unfortunately, has come to a close.

Riley has once again donned her strong suit with this play, which she's cast &, well, measured, beautifully. Actors, where they've earned it, have been allowed generous rope, with no hangings.

The Duke is the heart, soul and mind of the play. Here, he was well-elocuted and executed by Geoff Cartwright, who has judiciously interpolated a spectre of buffoonery, even amidst unrelenting virtue. This Duke, it seems, would've done well to be a little more like the other one, John Wayne, as he exhibits a certain tendency to softness; which might, more unkindly, be posited as weakness. He rules with a plastic sword, with none of the fire-and brimstone, fear-of-God flair of most royals of yore, myth and legend.

(Apparently, his name is Vincentio. Not that you'd ever know, from seeing the play, only from reading it.)

So, The Duke is The Conscience. This, alone, makes it somewhat clumsier than Shakespeare's best. In any case, The Duke spends most of his time not in regal clobber, but in clergy's new clothes, as the fake friar, Lodowick. 'Dis' guise allows him to observe, up close and personally, the moral rectitude of all and sundry. And, let's face it, there's nothing more confronting than someone breathing down your neck looking up your rectitude. In this sense, he's the rat in the ranks and, finally, the nail in the coffin of miscreant behaviour.

The chaste, novitiate nun (the best kind), Isabella, or Isobel, is made most interesting, in my book, in her becoming the love interest of The Duke. Katherine Lunny did a fair job of feigning naivety and innocence. Her character's penultimate jilting of the always-right royal is comic, in a naughty, perverse, Pythonesque way. This is the irreverent, playful million-dollar Bill we know and love. Or hate, I suppose.

'bella's bro's on death row, for fornication occasioning grievous impregnation. She appeals to 'Lodowick', to contrive to spare Claudio, played, adequately, by Mitchell McDermott (to be fair, he's more talked about, than talking, so there's not a lot to be done with the role). Meanwhile, back at the palace, Angelo has been installed, over-and-above right-hand man Escalus, to rule, in absentia. His resume looked good, much like Peter Foster's, but he turns out to be a bit of worm. Or a lot of one. A tapeworm. The self-serving, merciless, corrupt bounder puts the hard word on Isabella, on the promise of Claudio's stay of execution. Yes, it's all very Desperate Housewives in Dungeons, without the explicitness.

John Grinston, as Escalus, the flawed but, generally, loyal and just 2IC to The Duke, looks every bit the lordly bureaucrat, or pollie: a fine turn. Lord E, while doing his best in weighing decisions & consequences, in the way his name might imply, he has all the charisma of your average bean-counter. The Anthony Albanese of the day.

The Provost is a characteristically compliant bureaucrat who, as prison administrator, shows, perhaps, a somewhat uncharacteristic obsession with doing the right thing. While no cultural cringe appertains, Syann Williams lapsed a little too much into an Aussie accent, for my taste, interfering with my ability to suspend disbelief. While Colonel Klink isn't required, I need a more neutral accent, at least, to transport me to Vienna.

Pompey is a loud, coarse hooker, who, along with the following, provides much of the entertainment; delivered with relish by the diminutive Louise Harding who, as such, defied physical stereotypes for such a role.

Lucio is the village idiot of the play and not a beat was missed by David Halgren, who wrung everything he could out of the role; & then some. His precarious teetering on overdoing it made it all the edgier. A clearly ambitious young actor & one to watch.

Among the minor characters are Juliet, Claudio's bun-in-the-oven concubine; the more brawn-than-brains gaoler, Elbow; serial offender, Barnadine; Mariana, who rises to prominence as the wife of Angelo; Justice, a symbolic figure of obvious merit; Mistress Overdone, whose profession is self-explanatory.

The really delicious fact of Shakespearean comedy, of course, is that parallels can so often and readily be drawn with contemporary characters. The flagrant hypocrisy of moral hardliner, Angelo, reeks of the Jim Bakkers and other would-be pillars of civil society.

With certain reservations about the aesthetics of lighting and staging, especially in the early part of the play, all-in all this was a highly-commendable production, with some outstanding performances, most notably from Lucio, The Duke, Escalus & Pompey, in approximately that order.

I liked the way entrances and exits were effected, using a whole-of-theatre approach and the extra depth the stage was given, in 'staggering', or layering, such. I liked, too, the video closeups, which very effectively heightened dramatic tensions, towards the conclusion; a brave decision, which could so easily have succumbed to gimmickry, rather than genuine novelty.

Measure For Measure presents no problems at all, in the hands of Roz Riley, and Factory Space.

Bearing in mind the aforementioned, stage design, by Hecate (Sue Waters; Lyn Bryan) was inventive, if not downright ingenious, principally in terms of 'layers' of mesh, which served to evoke incarceration, entrapment and a more general feeling of shadows, secrecy, anxiety and claustrophobia.

Tony Finnocchiaro's stage management appeared flawless: no mean feat, given the frequency of entrances and exits.

Good on all the other production, technical and other persons, too, who helped pull off this measurably fine run of a tricky drama.

Factory Space Theatre Company presents
Measure for Measure
by William Shakespeare

Directed by Roz Riley

Star of the Sea Theatre, Cnr of Collingwood Street and Iluka Avenue, Manly.
Dates: 18th April – 2nd May 2009
Evenings: 7:30pm – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 
Matinees: 3:00pm - Sun 19th April
Tickets: $30 / $25. Group discounts and school parties by arrangement.
Bookings: 02 9439 1906

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