Measure For Measure is one of Shakespeare’s problematic plays, a comedy that can be difficult to come to terms with for modern audiences. The mix of bawdy banter and religious fervour is a heady one and Dominic Dromgoole, in his last directorial outing as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, gives both sides of the argument equal time.
By now I’ve grown to expect an interesting preamble whenever I see a show at the Globe, from the decadence of Cleopatra’s court to the capering of a Dromio in Comedy of Errors it pays to be in your seat early… Even I wasn’t prepared for the anarchy of bawds and whores cooing at the audience and dragging punters into their houses while the constable gives chase. Its choreographed anarchy and brilliant fun!
At it’s heart the show swings around Angelo and Isabella, the former a pious lord who rules Vienna in the stead of the departed Duke, the latter the sister of a man sentenced to death for impregnating a young lady who was not his wife. Kurt Egyiawan makes for a particularly rigid Angelo and the scene where he fails to control his lust for Isabella’s purity is beautifully played. Mariah Gale’s Isabella is a beacon of wholesome devotion, save for the moment her brother begs her to offer up her body in payment for his freedom and she lashes out at his face. She gives her character layers of conflicting feelings, though sometimes her voice fails to carry nearly as well as her castmates.
The drama of Isabella’s dilemma is a stark contrast to the slapstick comedy elsewhere as prostitutes and men of ill repute are rounded up by the dim-witted Constable Elbow. The two tones give the play some much needed levity but occasionally threaten to overwhelm the seriousness of the story.
The whole is orchestrated with aplomb by Dominic Rowan’s fast-talking Duke. Often portrayed as a wise and benevolent benefactor, Rowan gives him the air of a man making it up as he goes along and never truly sure of what will happen next. A refreshing take.
As Dromgoole’s globe farewell this is perhaps a lacklustre choice, but not for want of some great ensemble work. Even in baking heat the cast were a blur of motion – not easy in woollen costumes that had already been worn once that day I’m sure!