For the final instalment of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring trilogy, the 1604 comedy Measure for Measure has been adapted for the #MeToo generation. In an absorbing production that sees its multifaceted cast members taking on the issue of justice, mercy and sincerity, director Gregory Doran forces us to question if attitudes have shifted.
After the duke of Vienna unexpectedly leaves his deputy Angelo (played by Sandy Grierson) in charge, the new commander begins imposing the moralistic laws upon the citizens. While brothels were never legal, they were never raided, but Angelo’s fierce interpretation of the laws leads to their closures, along with the arrest of the unmarried Claudio. Facing execution for impregnating his girlfriend before marriage, Claudio leans on his sister Isabella (Lucy Phelps) to plead for his freedom. The soon to be nun, Isabella attempts to convince Angelo but unsurprisingly, finds that the new moralistic leader is content with propositioning her to trade her chastity for her brother’s freedom.
Expanding on Shakespeare’s world, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 27 actors have taken three dated but trusted plays in an effort to expand them to the masses. With reimagined retellings of the stories, including diverse casting, playful costumes and untraditional staging, the shows have been elevated by the RSC’s meta approach. Yet, unlike As You Like It and Taming of the Shrew, that shines the house lights straight at the audience with welcoming and vibrant sets, Doran’s direction of Measure for Measure sits silent and lonely. With the on-stage band rarely featured, the sanctuary of the Lowry theatre immerses audiences in a Vienna packed with mirrors and projections. Offering us a window into our own world, the grounded production has cast members hold moments in spot lit scenes that carry across their message of justice or mercy.
Measure for Measure is a minimalist production that turns around its provocative story and engaging cast. The revolving RSC cast are gloriously bold, and this stalk rendition moves Phelps from the flamboyant Rosalind in As You Like It, to the reserved Isabella. It speaks to the casts versatility and range that they can move the audience equally with their flashier productions as they can with the softer remodels. However, the show remains filled with the usual trickery, deceit and whimsical wordplay you can expect from a Shakespeare production. Doran also guides the audience to an uncomfortable conclusion, as this clever reimagining of the tale parallels the current climate and continues to speak directly to the audience about our troubled times. Understandably, the RSC’s thoughtful production doesn’t offer any solid conclusions to the issues it raises, but it will certainly leave you pondering over the production long after it’s over.