By William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Hall
Company: Peter Hall Company
Venue: Courtyard Theatre
Date: Wednesday 13th September 2006
This was an interesting production, using the idea of the Duke representing King James, who had published a book on good government shortly before this play was first produced. The costumes reflected this – black, black and more black (but best velvet, of course). The whores were more colourful – drab beige and brown. Those caught out by the strict laws had sackcloth draped over them, with a description of their shortcoming writ large for all to see – “Whore”, “Fornicator”, etc.
The set was largely bare stage. Three grills dropped down to represent the bars of the prison, with the middle one further back, to allow access. Benches, throne, tables, etc. were brought on as needed, and there were openings at the back on both levels for cells and viewing spaces for the citizens.
On the whole, the actors delivered their lines clearly, although for whatever reason, I couldn’t make out much of James Laurenson’s part – it seemed a bit muffled. Bit of a drawback, this, as he played the Duke, but he came across OK when it mattered, especially during the final act when the friar comes out of the closet. Isabella was very good. She had clear diction, and spoke with understanding as well as feeling. I could see her move from a position of absolutism to one of charity, if not actual compassion. Also, in that final scene, when she has to choose between mercy and revenge, it put me in mind of Portia’s plea to Shylock. In fact, I could see Merchant of Venice references throughout.
I didn’t see her reaction to the Duke’s first proposal of marriage; all I could see were her arms around her brother as she hugged him. There was no obvious response to the second proposal, either, and the Duke was obliged to leave the stage alone.
Lucio was very good. I always enjoy him, partly for the humour later on – the final act would be dreadfully dour but for him chipping in now and again – but also because he is the catalyst for Isabella’s renewed pleading to Angelo. But for him, she would have taken “no” for “no”, and left. He is therefore the person who helps her see better what she is capable of, as well as showing himself a good friend to Claudio, and setting in train the whole business of the play. It can be difficult to reconcile these two completely different aspects of his character, but Michael Mears managed it pretty well, and was very entertaining in the process.
Annette Badland was seriously wasted as Mistress Overdone. There don’t seem to have been any cuts in her part, but I remember seeing more of this lady in the past, presumably just in the staging. Barry Stanton as Escalus was suitably sober and dependable, and his scene with Elbow was entertaining.
Angelo’s a really nasty piece of work – self-righteous and as judgmental as they come. A good match for Isabella – maybe part of what softens her up is seeing herself reflected in such a man. These main characters worked very well together, and gave me more insight into the relationships between them. I felt the Duke was deliberately testing Angelo, as well as attempting to resurrect the penalties which had lapsed. His reaction to overhearing Isabella’s disclosure of Angelo’s offer to her brother was visible, though slight. All in all, a good production, which, as always, left me wishing Angelo had had the common sense to pack Claudio and Julietta off to a priest, instead of sending Claudio to prison.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me