The destination of last nights theatrical excursion? Islington: home of the Almeida Theatre, independent & hideously expensive clothes shops- and a Starbucks. Who knew that this quiet, un-assuming North London borough would lead to an evening of prostitution, corruption, monks and sexy politicians…
Michael Attenborough’s ‘Measure for Measure’ – had it all. Justice versus individual circumstance, the corruption of law, the gamble on the chastity of the spiritually pure- this, my theatre thirsty thespian lovers, was one hell of a production, executed with vigour and intelligence, excelling in almost all aspects of the trade. (Not sure if you can tell yet, but I rather enjoyed this).
Let us first start with the performance of the charming silver fox Mr. Ben Miles (Vencentio- The Duke of Vienna).
Genuinely faultless. Not a duffer in either dialogue or physical portrayal. His detailed action, precision of gesture and subtle nuance of delivery made the well-meaning but disorganised politician both endearing and believable, and superbly placed to off-set the comedic potential of the other characters.
As the Duke’s replacement, Angelo was to re-assert the severity of Vienna’s laws on fornication, leading one to expect the portrayal of an anal one-dimensional power-hungry single minded hypocritical politician (not that i’m cynical about politicians you understand); however the emotional complexity achieved during Kinnear’s performance was quite astonishing, a performance on a par with, and perfectly in accordance with Ben Miles’.
The supporting cast was also very strong, with superb performances from Lloyd Hutchinson (Lucio), Trevor Cooper (Pompey), Sean Kearns (Barnadine), and Tony Turner (Elbow). Hutchinson’s comedic timing was exact, maintaining the snappy energy of the production in scenes where the pace could very easily have been lost in the complexity of the dialogue.
There was really only one point of contention in terms of character: whether it was through directorial instruction or enthusiasm in performance, Anna Maxwell Martin’s Isabella was not always convincing- there were many occasions where she seemed to get a little carried away- unnecessarily shouting lines which really didn’t need such vocal emphasis. Despite these rather cringey moments, she was actually rather sweet, and her seeming affinity with the gracious and spiritually commited Isabella could be quite touching at times.
Lez Brotherston’s desing was truly stunning. The use of the space was ingenious, and the revolving walls, sinking tables, lighting changes and projection meant that prompt, seamless scene changes could be carried out by the cast as they entered or left the stage accordingly.
Considering the length of the play, the complexity of dialogue, and the few plot-holes inherent in Shakespeare’s text, this production was captivating, start to finish. The way the cast charmed the audience, drawing them into each aspect of the production, ensuring not one iota of detail was over-looked, and successfully managing to do so for nigh on three hours, is truly awe-inspiring. I can honestly say that this is a strong contender for my favourite production this year. Without meaning to sound too Double Mac (incredibly cheesy), the swell in my chest when talking about this show makes me think, “yes- this is what good, no- great theatre is about- and everyone should have the opportunity to feel like this”.
And if you’re still not convinced- come on, it’s got sex, religion and politics… what more could you want?