Barbican Theatre, London – until 16 January 2020
Measure For Measure is one of Shakespeare’s less performed works. A comedy (or such as was, in its day) exploring morality, sex, corruption and forgiveness, it has long been recognised in the modern-day as a challenge to present. Greg Doran has translated the play’s Viennese setting to the 1900s, but while there has clearly been an imaginative attempt at a credible interpretation of the yarn, this production is hamstrung by too much mediocrity.
Many of the performances, notably Lucy Phelps’ Isabella, are just too flat to bring a life to the narrative and this is only compounded by very poor sound design. Clarity of speech and diction is vital in all aspects of theatre, and with Shakespearean verse, with its dated but still richly observed perception and nuance, even more so.
For the Barbican, a modern venue that should be executing cutting edge techniques in both stagecraft and acoustics, this is hard to forgive. Much of the dialogue was inaudible to the extent that the play’s ending and associated resolution was, to many in the audience, quite simply incomprehensible.
Credit to David Ajao (Pompey) as well as Joseph Arkley (Lucio) who gave strong performances, catching the underlying humour. Likewise Anthony Byrne (Duke of Vienna) who was equally entertaining.
Unusually for Stephen Brimson Lewis, his set designs disappoint. While this may be a repertory touring run for the RSC, that is no reason to deliver scenery that fails to effectively shift the narrative’s various locations. Not the RSC at its best. This is most likely a production that will be best appreciated by students and Shakespeare enthusiasts.
Runs until 16th January 2020Photo credit: Helen Maybanks