Directed by John Dove (Master of Play) this "original practices" production of Measure for Measure presented by Shakespeare's Globe, a dark and problematic play of William Shakespeare, comes to life with surprising richness. Human Sexuality is the coat upon which the Bard has woven all the different textures and tastes of "this thing called love." As the play unfolds we see the varied layers: the blatant lust of bawds who habituate brothels, the violent passions of men who come to power and corrupt it, the mutual connubial bliss of lovers, and the sweet innocence of the novice and those of a more cautious nature.
Appalled by his city's fall into sin, the Duke of Vienna has decided to abdicate, leaving his Deputy, Angelo, in charge to enforce the laws against fornication outside of marriage, close the bordellos and punish the libertines. However, though he is thought to be out of the country, the Duke remains nearby disguised as a friar to keep tabs on the proceedings. The young Claudio has been condemned to death for getting his betrothed pregnant, and Angelo, now left in charge, must prosecute the law to the letter. Claudio's sister, Isabella, a young novitiate (nun in training), beseeches Angelo to spare her brother. The beautiful irony in the play is that Angelo immediately falls madly "in lust" with the pure Isabella and consents to release her brother only if she will sleep with him.
Artistic Director, Mark Rylance has taken the role of Vincentio, the Duke and interpreted him as a reluctant ruler, a thinking man of temperance and modesty. His milque-toast exterior belies his cogent intellect and basic kind nature. We laugh because he is so sweet and endearing, so bumbling, and yet so manipulative in engineering a happy ending. I must confess that I am a great fan of any actor who plays villains as full blooded human beings, thereby eradicating a portion of their villainy. It makes them more believable - for we then both love and hate their characters - just as we do in real life. It seems that this is closer to the playwright's original intention, especially in the case of Angelo - who is eventually let off the hook by the Duke's wisdom. Liam Brennan, a Scotsman, is quite electric as the sexually charged Deputy, Angelo, a man we love to hate. His utter anguish that he, a virile man, is being brought to his knees by the feeling that he has for Isabella, moves us to pity his predicament. This passion, that he cannot understand and yet is victim to, explains a portion (though not all) of his reprehensible behavior and we are thankful for it.
Lucio, a slandering braggart is played to the hilt by Colin Hurley, who manages to get laughs until the end. John Dougall is rousing as the impenitent bawd, Pompey, who gladly becomes the hangman's assistant and Roger McKern is hysterical as a Barnadine, a prisoner who refuses to be executed.
One should explain what "original practices" production means. That means an all-male staging of the play just as in Shakespeare's day. This all-male staging was successful on three counts out of four. Michael Brown as Marianna, Claudio's betrothed was wonderful. I believed him as an actor and an actress. In a very small role as Mistress Overdone, Peter Shorey camped up every minute and David Hartley as the pregnant Juliet was quite believable. Unfortunately, Edward Hogg seemed very uncomfortable as Isabella which made the audience feel the same way.
The costumes are intricate and meticulously researched for their authenticity and the program notes state that they are made by hand. Master of Clothing, Properties and Hangings is Jennifer Tiramani who I am assuming is also responsible for the set which is a magnificent blonde wooden backdrop with a matching wood floor. Two large archways on either end of the backdrop are covered by hanging tapestries. Six large chandeliers hang over this playing area with what appear to be real candles. There are no lighting cues or changes. However there is plenty of music from the band of strolling musicians that play authentic instruments of the day (recorders of different sizes, a viol, a small bugle and a Renaissance bagpipe) and dancing. Dances are inserted at the beginning and ending of scenes - or wherever there seems to be a change in the action. In all it gives one a very definitive feel for what plays must have been like in the Bard's day.