Touring – reviewed at The Lowry, Salford
Guest reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Following the relatively positive openings of As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew at The Lowry, the Royal Shakespeare Company introduces Measure For Measure as the final instalment in their national tour of three Shakespeare plays. Under the capable direction of Gregory Doran – incumbent artistic director of the RSC – this production adeptly traverses the conflicting genres of the original problem play. Intertwining ribald comedy with a morality tale is no easy feat, yet an outstanding cast and creative team reinforce this thought-provoking and immersive experience for all to enjoy.
From the play’s exposition, Anthony Byrne dominates the stage as the duplicitous Duke of Vienna. While the character is renowned for his manipulative and coercive actions, Byrne injects the Duke with an unnerving amiable quality that accentuates his ability to effortlessly deceive those around him. Lucy Phelps, in an angst-ridden performance as Isabella, captures the raw desperation of a novice nun pressured into saving her brother Claudio (James Cooney) at the expense of her chastity. However, Sandy Grierson’s portrayal of Angelo, whilst overtly antagonistic, fails to express the sexual passion (for Isabella) that is central to the character’s moral and political corruption.
Achieved through a series of detailed projected images, set designer Stephen Brimson Lewis transports the audience through the morally ambivalent city of Vienna. Whether in Mistress Overdone’s (Graeme Brooke) dingy brothel, or Isabella’s pure nunnery, Lewis utilises a backdrop of distorted mirrors as a medium through which to parallel the distorted ethics of the city’s inhabitants. Lighting designer Simon Spencer also succeeds in illuminating scenes set in the prison, where iron bars cast a great shadow over Claudio and haunt him as he anticipates his forthcoming execution. Likewise, the vibrant orchestral score, directed live by Lindsey Miller, not only conveys the diverse and frantic energy of the city but emphasises the high production values of the entire performance.
While the RSC’s production of The Taming of the Shrew reimagines Elizabethan England as a matriarchal society, this play does not shy away from emphasising the dark sexual politics which pervade Vienna. This performance, therefore, excels as an authentic reproduction of Shakespeare’s’ original text, but ultimately fails to deliver the ‘electrifying’ spark that the RSC promises this tour possesses. However, given that the majority of the cast and crew are concurrently working on at least one of the other two plays, they are to be commended for the vigour they have graced this production with.
Measure for Measure runs at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 5 October 2019.