Left - Robin McLeavy and Arky Michael. Cover - Robin McLeavy, Toby Schmitz and Maeve Dermody. Photos - Heidrun Lohr.
Director Benedict Andrews’ latest offering is a contemporary, sharp and original version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure that clearly references the hypocrisy of our current politicians as well as the bigotry of ideological purists.
In both style and concept, this is a thoroughly modern rendition of Measure for Measure, reflecting a visual, media-enhanced world and resonating with the voyeurism that is entrenched in contemporary culture. Andrews achieves this while remaining true to the text and delivering a clear and thoughtful version of this classic.
The set, designed by Ralph Myers, is a revolving hotel room. Two large screens hang on either side. All the action is filmed by the actors on the stage and by hidden cameras set in the furniture and roof. Sometimes the action on stage is obscured and the audience can only watch it on the screens. In fact the audience probably watches as much of the action on video as on the stage. The juxtapositon of the two mediums is enthralling. The audience might simultaneously be watching the actors performing on stage and the same performance in close-up on screen.
Vienna has sunk into sexual depravity. Feeling he is not able to rein in his citizens, Duke Vincentio (Robert Menzies) pretends to leave Vienna and temporarily appoints the hard line puritan, Angelo as Governor to clean up the city. Angelo ruthlessly sets about shutting down the brothels and sentencing Claudio (Chris Ryan) to death for getting Juliet (Maeve Dermody), his betrothed, pregnant. Claudio’s novice sister, Isabella, petitions Angelo for her brother’s release and Angelo offers to trade Claudio’s life for her virginity.
Robin McLeavy is outstanding as the passionate and self righteous Isabella. She gives a compelling performance. When she makes an impassioned plea for her brother’s life it is easy to see why Angelo is smitten with her.
While Damon Gameau’s characterisation of Angelo doesn’t have the same clarity or quite match McLeavy’s presence and intensity, their relationship still works, albeit without the frisson. The two characters are so alike, tarred with the same rigid, puritanical brush.
This is what makes Measure for Measure an interesting play. Neither a comedy or tragedy, it has been defined as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays. It is, in fact, a serious play about morality which is peppered with comedy to make it entertaining. Just like Boston Legal. No one in the play can be considered truly good. There is a duality in even the most upright character’s morality: Isabella is just as flawed as Angelo: her zealotry causes her to choose to preserve her honour in favour of her own brother’s life.
Similarly, Vincentio lacks the strength to deal with the problems in Vienna himself, resorts to subterfuge and meddles. Robert Menzies’ finely nuanced performance cleverly depicts Vincentio as both a character trying to achieve good while, in many ways, is devious and manipulative.
The cast, including Colin Moody’s Barnadine, Frank Whitten’s Escalus and Arky Michael’s Pompey, is uniformly excellent. The amoral Lucio (Toby Schmitz) epitomises the moral turpitude of the times but is largely there to provide comic relief. Schmitz does a terrific job of squeezing every delicious black comic ounce out of his role. Helen Thomson excels in both her roles as the recalcitrant Mistress Overdone and the hardly done by Mariana.
Not everything works and the weak moments of the production are when Andrews indulges himself with overly long scenes such as in the brothel and Barnadine’s (Colin Moody) drunken trashing of the set. They are there at the expense of a tauter production. But this is a minor quibble.
The ending is truly modern with no glib resolutions. It is instead heavily ironic and amusing.
Company B Belvoir presents
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Benedict Andrews
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 5 June – 25 July 2010
Previews: 5 & 6 June All preview tickets $35
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm.
Tickets: Full $57. Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) and Groups 10+ $47. Concession $35
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au