“Measure for Measure”, the last of the RSC’s 2019 summer season, begins with a chandelier, classical music and dancing. The play transports us immediately to 1900s Vienna, the setting chosen by director Gregory Doran for this Shakespeare classic.
And yet, this romantic scene is all of a sudden interrupted by Anthony Byrne’s powerful Duke, and the truly dark and disturbing tone of this play set in, as he puts his nephew Angelo (Sandy Grierson, in a very different role from his previous appearance in “As You Like It”) in charge, and everything begins to take a more sinister turn.
Angelo decrees that sex outside marriage shall be punishable by death, and when Claudio (James Cooney) gets his sweetheart Juliet (Amy Trigg) pregnant, he is sentenced to be executed. The rest of the story follows Claudio’s sister Isabella (played with passion and precision by Lucy Phelps) as she tries to save her brother from this punishment. It takes her to dark places indeed, and as the play continues, the audience are continually forced to question the morals of the characters and the society that they inhabit. In Doran’s Measure, not everything is as black and white as it first seems.
The serious tones of the play are complemented by comedy turns from Michael Patrick (Elbow), David Ajao (Pompey) and Joseph Arkley (Lucio), who help to lighten the mood without detracting from the main story.
For those of you that don’t know the story (as I didn’t before seeing this play), the production will keep you guessing right until the end, with a final scene that is haunting and harrowing in equal measure – an image that will truly stay with me for a long time.
This is the best of the RSC’s current season – you do not want to miss it!
“Measure for Measure” plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 29th August, transferring to the Barbican in November, and touring the UK in 2020.