There are not many Shakespeare plays I haven’t seen over the years but for some reason Measure for Measure has escaped me – until now that is.
In his first Shakespearian production as Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre, Michael Attenborough tackles what is seen as one of The Bard’s ‘problem plays’. It may be his first stab at Shakespeare at the Almeida but he sets the standard high in a near faultless production.
Vienna has become overrun by the sex trade, heralding a brief appearance from the pole dancers, the first of many indications that this modern dress production may not follow the usual conventions of Shakespeare. While it could be seen as a gimmick it works and gives the piece a modern relevance. In an attempt to restore order the Duke appoints Angelo to restore order. Unfortunately his best intentions don’t go exactly to plan when Angelo turns out to be as corrupt as the city he’s supposed to be cleaning up.
As the Duke and Angelo Ben Miles and Rory Kinnear excel, Kinnear in particular giving a gripping performance that commands attention. Equally impressive is Anna Maxwell Martin as novice nun Isobella who bargains with Angelo for her brothers’ life. A performance even more impressive when you note this is her Shakespearian debut. A performance filled with emotion, ever gesture and inflection spot on.
Les Brotherton’s visually stunning set of twin revolving walls is lit perfectly by the Lord of Lighting Designers David Hersey, framing this chamber piece with a variety of locales while focussing on the central performances.
Fine supporting performances from the company and a fluid direction make this an instant classic – not so much a problem play anymore but a timely, relevant and powerful exploration of morals and the abuse of power.