Measure For Measure – January 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Roxana Silbert

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Friday 27th January 2012

Second time around, and we were seeing this performance from a completely different angle. This allowed us to catch up on some of the reactions we hadn’t seen before, but of course we still only getting a proportion of the performance. Even so, we could see areas which had come on for the practice, and the central characters and their relationships were still very clear.

The changes which I noticed: Pompey went into a lot more detail about the inhabitants of the prison, picking on lots of folk in the audience and involving all of us at the end, which was very funny. He made some comments about “it’s in the folio”, and “I can only work with what you give me”, lots of stuff like that. The Duke’s human lampshades were more demure on their second appearance when Angelo was there, folding their arms over their chests, and he snapped his fingers to get them off stage in a hurry when Isabella approached, obviously embarrassed. The third time around, they held their hands in a prayer posture in response to Angelo’s reference to praying, and they left of their own accord when Isabella was announced.

I found the arguments between Isabella and Angelo even clearer than last time, especially when he was trying to get her to understand his ‘proposition’; Isabella seemed less intense, but just as passionate. It was much clearer this time that the Provost knew what was going on once he’d read the Duke’s letter off stage. He was clearly in cahoots with the Duke during the final scene, beckoning Elbow over to his corner of the stage to stop him dragging the Duke/friar off to prison.

Things I forgot to mention before or which weren’t clear: in the early scene at the monastery, the Duke handed his hat, scarf and coat to the friar as if he were one of the Duke’s servants; the friar looked a bit bewildered, but still took them. Lucio was indeed at the brothel first time round. The interval came after the Duke’s second encounter with Lucio at the jail, after Pompey had been arrested and Lucio refused to bail him.

And of course the performance had moved on from the last time we saw it. I was aware this time how Escalus’s common sense judgement of Pompey, Froth and Elbow was being contrasted with Angelo’s absolute approach. In the final scene, Isabella was quite stunned to discover who the Duke was and took a while to adjust, although she was still taking in the other events that were going on and still chose very quickly to support Mariana’s plea for mercy. She took longer to accept the Duke’s offer of marriage at the end tonight, I thought, and she didn’t look as happy when she turned round at the end, before they started the dance, so she’s presumably doing this differently to when we saw it earlier. Otherwise, the performance was just as brilliant as before, and despite complaints from some that the darker aspects weren’t explored enough, I felt this was a very satisfying exploration of the play.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

Measure For Measure – November 2011


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Roxana Silbert

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Friday 25th November 2011

This is a classic example of the difference between rating the production and rating my experience of a performance. The production is worth 10/10, absolutely no doubt, but with my view frequently restricted by actors’ backs, I was continually frustrated as I attempted to see one or another character’s reaction to events as they unfolded. Of course, the cause of my frustration was the excellent performances – I wouldn’t have been so bothered if it had been an average production.

The Duke began proceedings with a display of control and showmanship, altering the lighting, doing some little magic tricks, and it was perfectly topped off when he set himself up to welcome Escalus from one direction, only to have him walk on from another. That’s probably the earliest laugh I’ve ever experienced at this play. Raymond Coulthard had been at the pre-show talk earlier, along with assistant director Adam Lenson – apologies from Roxana – and this section had changed a great deal from the previews apparently, where they had attempted to show the Duke in a great haste to leave. Now he’s more leisurely in his actions, but still focused on executing his plans, and his fur coat and hat complete his outfit beautifully. There’s a hint of campness to the performance, but just enough to bring out the humour, and for once the Duke is fully central to the production, either as himself or as the friar. He produced the commissions for Angelo and Escalus by means of a magic trick as well.

The brothel scene was done as an S&M dungeon, with Lucio?, Froth and the others being beaten or whipped according to their preference. I think there was a judge involved at some point as a customer? The costumes were a mixture, being mainly modern-ish with Elizabethan references, such as the embossed codpiece (which had a cross on it as well – weird!). The dialogue was very clear, so I was aware that there’s actually an international conflict going on, which gave the Duke a plausible reason for being out of the country. The sense of a change in policy also came across well, with the locals being so used to getting away with their sexual peccadilloes that the law might as well not have existed.

Claudio and Juliet were being paraded through the streets to display their shame, and Claudio ended up chained to one of the mini-posts along the sides of the stage. These were about 5 inches high, gold coloured, with embossed square studs all round them and a gold chain dangling off each one. Juliet was 8 months 29 days pregnant, and I wasn’t sure if the glittery silver horns on her head were part of a fancy headband she was wearing, or whether they were meant to indicate the nature of her venal sin – they looked nice, though.

At the monastery, the chanting monks brought on a bier with a body, covered over by a cloth. Once the other monks had left, the friar who was the Duke’s accomplice removed the cloth to reveal the Duke, still in his posh clothes. The friar wasn’t happy at all about the Duke’s plan, and didn’t seem convinced about the propriety of him impersonating a monk, but he went along with the Duke’s orders. When they left, the nuns came on, also singing, and moved the bier to behind the whiplash curtain (more details on the set later). This left Isabella and one nun behind, and it’s clear that Isabella is several stages beyond devout. If anything, she may be too ferociously puritanical for these nuns, so I suspect they may have had a narrow escape.

Lucio tried to converse with the nun when he arrived, but she couldn’t talk with him as her face was visible. This led to some laughs, as Lucio is determined to speak with the nun, and all she can do is shake or nod her head while making grimaces at Isabella to help out. Fortunately Isabella soon realised that she was the one Lucio wanted to see, and the message about her brother’s imminent execution was soon delivered. Isabella’s quick decision to get this matter sorted before she took orders showed her leadership capabilities to the full, so much so that the nun was looking a bit askance at her blithe assumption that she can leave the nunnery as she pleases. If she did join a nunnery, she’d be abbess within two years, or she’d know the reason why!

Angelo and Escalus heard the case against Pompey and Froth with either impatience or humour, according to their temperament. Froth was a nice-looking chap, and didn’t he know it, posturing and posing himself, as well as overacting the bereft son when Pompey mentioned the death of his father. Lots of humour in this performance. Elbow was marvellous, with every Malapropism coming across clearly (doesn’t always happen) along with his total indignation that anyone should claim his wife was a respected woman! Pompey was also superb, the best I’ve seen, although he gets more to do in later scenes. Geoffrey Beevers was also good as Escalus, ready to see the funny side of things, but also with enough gravitas to explain his position within Duke Vincentio’s court.

Isabella’s pleading to Angelo was one of the scenes I found I couldn’t see enough of, but what I did see was pretty splendid. There’s always a point where Isabella’s own passion kicks in, thanks to Lucio’s insistence that she keep going and the fact that Angelo’s arguments are so close to the ones she wants to use herself, at least initially. At least, that’s how I see it. Without seeing all the reactions, I can’t fully record this scene, but I understood the way the two protagonists affected each other, with Isabella finally finding not just her voice but also her heart, and putting the argument for mercy as forcefully as she might have put the opposite ones just minutes earlier. She’s not cold, this Isabella, just strongly devout. Angelo on the other hand is cold, and it’s the passion of her arguments and the clarity of her wits that kindles the flame of lust in him. I felt there was almost a chance for this Angelo to back off from the rash choice that gets him into trouble, but of course we wouldn’t have a play if he didn’t plunge into the dark side. It was mentioned in the pre-show, that for such absolutists the choice is either good or bad, and if you can’t be one, you have to be the other. As Adam Lenson pointed out, grey is such a useful shade. I was also aware that Isabella is more distressed by the possibility of Claudio’s execution being too soon for his soul to be prepared for heaven than by the bare fact of his execution. It was such an immediate response compared to the way she’d had to be pushed into pleading for her brother’s life. Again I was reminded of how this scene echoes the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice, with Isabella putting an equally strong case for mercy.

In the jail, the ‘Friar’ is soon meddling away to his heart’s content. He’s quite the manipulator, this Duke, and after the pre-show chat it was interesting to watch how Raymond Coulthard develops his character. He set up his plans, and then something happened which wasn’t what he expected, and so he had to adapt and change things. It was a good interpretation of the role, and allowed for plenty of humour as well as the tough decisions. When he was catechising Juliet at the start of this next scene, I reckoned the Provost had been deliberately keeping the news of Claudio’s execution from Juliet, and isn’t best pleased that the friar blurts it out so unfeelingly.

The second scene between Isabella and Angelo was absolutely brilliant. The dialogue was remarkably clear – I often have trouble with some of the lines in this play, so it’s a relief that they managed this – and the reactions were spot on for their characters. Isabella really didn’t understand what Angelo was getting at to begin with. She thought he was concerned that granting a pardon would be a sin, and was happy to take that burden on herself. It seemed to me that Angelo became even more the villain as the scene wore on and he had to spell his offer out to Isabella ever more clearly. I was very aware of the risk to her of revealing what he’s said, but I got the feeling that she’s a strong and resourceful person, if a bit idealistic and optimistic about her brother’s reactions to the news she’s about to bring him.

In the jail, the Duke coached Claudio in how to handle his situation, not that he has to suffer it for long. Claudio looked a bit bashed round the edges – had he been fighting?  When Isabella arrived, the Duke eavesdropped from behind the whiplash curtain, and was clearly disturbed to hear of Angelo’s corrupt offer. Claudio’s fall from grace caused Isabella to get really cross, and then the Duke interrupted to start meddling again. Isabella waited by the front of the stage while the Duke had a few words with Claudio; I was struck that this was one gabby Duke, as near as dammit revealing the secrets of the confessional. Isabella was very keen to help the Duke with his plot, no hesitation or concern once she grasped what he was proposing, and she’s very quick on the uptake, this one.

I’m not sure of the order of scenes at this point, as I think the first half ended after the Duke has sent Isabella off to arrange the secret tryst with Angelo, and involved some more magic tricks, with a coin this time. I also think the Duke spoke the lines at the end of Act III scene II. The second half then opened with Mariana singing a song, accompanied by a guitar-playing monk. She sat on a swing, and although she was a little sad in manner, she seemed relatively self-possessed compared to some Marianas we’ve seen (booze, fags, etc.). I don’t remember if some of the in-between scenes were cut or simply inserted elsewhere – I’ll try to pick up on this when we see it again in January. One thing we both noticed was Mariana’s comment about the Duke/friar – ‘a man of comfort, whose advice hath often still’d my brawling discontent’. Given that he only became a friar a day or so ago, how ‘often’ has been with Mariana? This led me to wonder if she actually knew he was the Duke, and that perhaps the Duke himself had been comforting her, looking for a way to bring her and Angelo together. However, there was no sign of that, so I just had to assume this is one of Will’s wonky time bits – he has plenty of those.

One thing to mention now, though, about the Duke’s first disguised confrontation with Lucio, was that the Duke became very angry and threatening towards Lucio. Between ‘..too unhurtful an opponent’ and ‘But indeed I can do you little harm’ he remembered his disguise, and changed his tune completely, with the second sentence being said meekly and with hands held in prayer. It was funny, and emphasised the way this Duke really didn’t get the ‘friar’ bit, acting much too cocky for the part, ordering people around as if he were….. well, the Duke. His arrogance later in the final scene was deliberate, but there’s still a lot to spare during these scenes as well.

Back at the jail, Pompey was entertaining during his job interview, and even more entertaining later on when telling us about all the familiar faces he’d met while in prison. Many of them were sitting in the audience tonight, in fact, which kept us laughing for a while. Before that, when the orders came from Angelo to carry out the executions regardless, the Duke had to think quickly of a new plan to delay things. The Provost was very reluctant to begin with, but once he did decide to join in, he was all gung-ho with the planning.

Barnadine stuck his head up through a small window in the floor at first, then came up from the basement to tell the Duke straight out that he wasn’t going to be hanged today. Some productions try a bit too hard with this character; this version was very well done by Daniel Stewart and was funny without being ludicrous – he just wasn’t going to cooperate with other people’s plans. The Provost’s suggestion that they take advantage of the fortuitous death of Ragadine was played for humour, as was the Duke’s response, and we all joined in the fun with our laughter.

Raymond Coulthard had explained earlier that he saw the Duke’s decision not to tell Isabella that her brother is alive when she arrives at the prison as a spur of the moment thing. He doesn’t want to tell her partly because he doesn’t think she could carry off the next part of his plan – accusing Angelo – if she knew the truth, but also because he’s still testing her. Of course his lines give another reason as well, but in any case I could see the need for a quick choice in his performance tonight – his plan hasn’t worked the way he expected, he’s moved to plan B (or is it C?) and it’s all happened a bit too quickly for him to sit back and consider all the angles.

Isabella’s reaction here was good, and set things up for her final choice of the evening. She’s sad that her brother is dead, but accepts, with a little nod, the Duke’s instruction to go along with next part of his plan. For once, this Isabelle has grasped that devotion to God involved forgiveness, and this greater level of flexibility explains why she can pull through such adverse circumstances. The Duke had been moved by her actions earlier, when she was so willing to trust him and cooperate with his plan. During one of these scenes, she held his hands, and after she left it was clear that her touch as well as her personality had affected him.

Angelo is off stage for quite a while during all this plotting, so when he came on again with the letter from the Duke, it was our first chance to see what state of mind he was in. A bit unsure at first, perhaps, but he talked himself into greater confidence, and if he didn’t get his comeuppance a short while later he might have become a hardened villain eventually – suppressed guilt can do that to people.

The final scene had the Duke arriving back with lots of his friends. The friar who showed Mariana and Isabella where to stand had also attached a line to scoop up much of the curtain strands, so there was a bit more room at the back – very necessary for this scene. The Duke was full of praise for everyone, but especially Angelo – setting him up for a bigger fall. Isabella’s accusation was soon rebuffed, but the Duke had to make several attempts to get her to mention the ‘friar’s’ involvement in the ‘plot’. Raymond Coulthard had mentioned this aspect of the scene earlier – that the Duke needs the others to say the right lines so his plan can unfold properly. Once she brought the friar into it, Isabella could be sent off to prison while Mariana had her turn. Of course the Duke also had to stop Lucio prattling on and on, telling the Duke how this friar had been spreading all sorts of lies about him.

When Mariana entered, she had a simple black blindfold on her eyes, and again the Duke had to work hard to get her to reveal that Angelo himself is her husband. Once her identity was revealed, the Duke absented himself, having sent the Provost to fetch this troublesome friar. He returned pretty soon in his monk’s disguise, but not before Angelo had given Lucio free rein to slander the man even more. With his plot coming to a head, the Duke/friar was arrogant with Angelo and Escalus, and they soon determined to bring him down a peg or two. It was Lucio who wrestled with him to get his hood off, managing to give him a spanking on the way. When the robe was off and the Duke revealed, Lucio sank to his knees saying ‘it’s the Duke’ in a way that suggests he was fully aware of how much trouble he was in.

Naturally the Duke pardoned Escalus, but started to turn the screw on Angelo, sending him off to be married to Mariana. I didn’t see Isabella’s reaction to the uncovering of the Duke’s disguise, but she didn’t seem upset or hugely disturbed. She seemed to adapt quite quickly to the new situation, and when Mariana asked for her help to plead for Angelo’s life, she didn’t have to think for long before making her own plea for clemency. And it wasn’t forced or reluctant; her argument that Angelo’s death won’t bring back Claudio seemed to be exactly what she thought and felt.

Next he had the Provost (who was very relieved now he knew he’d actually been helping the Duke) bring out Barnadine, and dealt with him, showing his magnanimity. Barnadine was brought on with a hood over his head; when it was removed, he simply stood there and smoothed back the hair on one side, then the other, getting a good laugh. The other prisoner, also with a hood, was then revealed – Claudio! As he looked around him, a little dazed, Isabella was very happy to see him and gave him a long hug.

The Duke made one attempt to propose to Isabella, but realised it wasn’t the best time.  There’s just one other matter to deal with – Lucio – and then he can have another go. Lucio’s ‘punk’ turned up at just the right time (for her, not for Lucio) and he was off to a fate that he considers worse than death. The ‘lady’ in question was slovenly, with torn tights and scruffy clothes, and she carried her young child on her hip (but is it also Lucio’s?).

Finally the Duke turned his attention to Isabella, and this time he did a full proposal, on one knee, emphasising her willingness in the choice. She was pretty quick to accept him; her experiences had taught her a lot about life in a short time, and from her expression I guessed she’d fallen for this strange Duke/friar hybrid. A cloistered life was no longer viable for her, and in terms of their mettle, they’re well matched. However she’s spent her time with the friar – will she find the Duke as much to her liking?

It was a high-energy performance which they rounded off with a dance. We applauded mightily, and left very happy with our evening’s entertainment. This play is so often treated as ‘dark’ piece, and it made a pleasant change to see it given a lighter touch, bringing out more of the comedy. The choices all worked well together, and we’re looking forward to seeing this again in January.

The performances were all excellent. Raymond Coulthard’s Duke was very much in charge, but not infallible. When the Duke is set up to be too good, there’s always the question of how he let the problems arise in the first place. The setting for this production made it clear that the decadence the Duke is trying to stamp out by way of Angelo’s appointment is at all levels of society; he just hadn’t noticed it creep up on him. One Duke’s erotica is a working man’s porn, that sort of thing. He got so much humour out of the part that it may be difficult to watch another version for a while – we’ll miss the laughter.

Jodie McNee gave a very intelligent performance as Isabella. Not an intellectual one – this was an Isabella who wasn’t a prude as such – but well thought out and as quick in understanding as any Rosalind. She’ll soon be president of several charities while bringing up numerous children, running the Duke’s household and probably writing uplifting books for the edification of the general population in her spare time. Not someone I’d care to spend much time with, but much more likeable than most Isabellas.

Jamie Ballard did a good job with Angelo. It’s a difficult part, because although he’s a villain in one sense, he doesn’t set out to be one like Richard III, for example. While many have commented on Isabella’s lack of dialogue at the end of this play, Angelo also has to be present without speaking a lot as well, and Jamie managed this very well. I still want to see more of the exchange between Angelo and Isabella to get a clearer picture, though.

Paul Chahidi was very good fun as Lucio, and I always enjoy seeing Bruce Alexander on stage; his Provost was a nicely detailed performance. I’ve already praised Elbow (Ian Midlane) and Pompey (Joseph Kloska), and the rest of the cast did equally well in the smaller roles.

Finally I’ll describe the set. It was an interesting mixture which set the scene perfectly.  The floor had sections of black leather with a circular pattern punched in them – a spiral of dots. These encompassed the large trapdoor in the middle, and two smaller windows fore and aft of this. At the back of the thrust there were strands of black leather hanging down to form a curtain – it may not have been leather, of course, but that’s the impression it gave. There were at least three layers to this whiplash curtain, which allowed for concealed characters, as well as lots of possible entrances and exits. Assorted furniture was brought on and off, and there were two human lamps on either side under the balconies. These came on at the start, when the Duke was manipulating the lights, and switched on when he snapped his fingers, then stood there with their hands posed, looking very elegant. When Angelo saw Isabella for the second time, I noticed the lamps again, but this time their hands were held in prayer – he was clearly affecting the furniture as well. We were aware that some people apparently enjoy being used as furnishing items – there’s probably a word for it, but I’m not going to search the internet to find out – so again that suggested the sexual corruption in this Vienna was at all levels of society. The Duke himself wore a leather corselet which echoes the dominatrix gear Mistress Overdone and the other prostitutes had on, while the Duke’s servant who announced Isabella wore a French maid’s outfit which was too sexy to be real. Other characters wore mainly modern dress, but with Elizabethan-type references, giving a sense of this being a world of its own, neither one thing nor another, and so representing all times.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Measure For Measure – March 2009


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Jamie Glover

Company: Theatre Royal Plymouth

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 24th March 2009

This was the first Shakespeare play directed by Jamie Glover, and it’s a pretty good start to this phase of his career. Also present tonight were his mum and dad (Isla Blair and Julian Glover), Penelope Keith, Charles Kay and Greg Doran, whom Steve spotted giving someone a big hug afterwards – presumably young Jamie. So it must have been a pretty nerve-wracking first night at Guildford for everyone and I think they handled it very well.

The set consisted of a brick wall along the back with an entrance either side, topped with a row of wooden shutters which could be opened a number of ways to show the windows and create the different locations. There were two pillars on each side of the stage and a plain, flagged floor. Desks, chairs, etc. were brought on as needed, but sparingly. The costumes were Victorian and the whole effect was very sombre, with only the prostitute’s clothes providing a splash of colour. The walls even ran with water to make the place look dank and unpleasant. The lighting worked very well to change the location, although occasionally a character’s face would be in shadow when they were talking with someone else, which hopefully they can correct.

Alistair McGowan was playing the Duke and opened the play with what seemed like a melodramatic style, lurking mysteriously by the pillars and then starting with fright when his court appeared. His tendency to wave his arms around wasn’t the worst I’ve seen and although I would prefer him to rein that back a bit, I soon got used to his style and started to enjoy the performance. His animation also emphasised the stillness and lack of expression of Angelo, which is a useful point to make.

I found the dialogue in the opening scenes a bit brisk for easy understanding, but with Lucio’s arrival at the nunnery it calmed down and I found I was very keen to listen as the story unfolded. That made the somewhat excessive amount of coughing a bit annoying, and I may have rated this performance even higher if it hadn’t been for those distractions which mainly seemed to come from the younger audience members. Too much TV, not enough theatre going perhaps.

Anyway, the story rattled on at a good pace (the whole performance came in at just over two and a half hours, including interval) and I found I heard many of the lines afresh tonight. The comments about the dowries came across clearly, which made me think that if that society hadn’t put such an emphasis on the commercial aspects of marriage there wouldn’t have been such a need for fornication in the first place. Or at least it would have been the legitimate kind, although I also agree with Pompey that it’s a “vice” that will never be stamped out till humanity has left the planet for good.

The scene with Pompey, Froth and Elbow in front of the judges was the best I’ve ever seen. We’re fond of Robert Goodale anyway, and his rendition of a Dogberry type constable was absolutely perfect. I could totally believe that he thought he was saying the right word every time while committing some wonderfully funny verbal faux pas. Froth was a straightforward dimwit with no attempt made to pad his character out excessively, and Pompey got his lines across really well all through the play. I also liked the fact that, with limited numbers, Elbow is frequently on stage as one of the officers, even if he doesn’t get any extra lines.

From reading the program notes I was very aware that this play was written during the reign of James VI and I, and it seems to be designed to pander to the king’s interest in theology. It’s as if Shakespeare has expanded the second half of The Merchant Of Venice, adding a lot more detail to the arguments and changing the context to a sexual rather than a religious or financial one. With this production, I found I could hear the debate raging very clearly, and that more than anything else hooked me and kept me engrossed. There wasn’t such a focus on the psychological elements of the characters and I felt the balance was just about right. The personal aspects, particularly with Isabella, were an important part of the debate – these characters had to make these points because of their situation – and I wanted very much to know how it would turn out. Which is bizarre, as I know, or thought I knew this play pretty well. That’s why we keep coming back, of course.

Emma Lowndes as Isabella gave a very complete performance. Not as stiff as some Isabellas at the start, she was still fairly upright and virginal. She seemed to find her voice and her emotions in pleading her brother’s case with Angelo, and after all she’d been through I felt she’d grown up a lot and seen aspects of life that she would never have encountered if she’d shut herself away in a nunnery. At the end she was left on stage, having gone through the emotional upheaval of having lost her brother only to find him again and then the Duke’s unbelievably clumsy proposal, and I could see she would be in emotional turmoil, not knowing what to do next. No wonder she doesn’t say anything. The Duke returns to wait at the door for her and as the lights go down she appears to be getting ready to get up and make her move, but which way will she go? With him, or back off to the cloister? It’s a nice touch to leave the matter undecided, and I suspect that she might need time to make a decision herself.

Jason Merrells as Angelo gave us all of that character’s uprightness followed by the descent into viciousness, pretty clearly. He had a wonderful guilty shiftiness in the final scene, forcing a false smile and then showing his nasty temper when given a chance to complete the apparent cover-up of his fall from grace. I still feel Mariana’s got her work cut out making a half-way decent man out of the scraps she’s left with at the end, but redemption is everything in this play so she’ll probably manage it.

I’m coming to the tentative conclusion that Shakespeare wanted his plays to end happily for some reason (popular appeal, perhaps?) and didn’t care about the ‘realities’ of the situation he’d left his characters in as much as we seem to. For example, Mariana is married to Angelo, a man who’d repudiated her and was intending to semi-rape another woman, Olivia (Twelfth Night) is married to Sebastian, a man she hardly knows but has mistaken for his disguised twin sister, etc. I suspect if he came back today he’d be amazed and hopefully amused at the amount of analysis that had been done on perfectly straightforward plays, even on misprints, although he might be a bit annoyed to find they were out of copyright and he was no longer making money on them.

All the other performances were fine (nice to see George Anton on stage again) and Lucio (Patrick Kennedy) was in fine form, irritating the Duke beautifully. I was having some sniffle moments in the final scene – Mariana acknowledging her husband, Isabella choosing to plead for Angelo’s life – and despite the moving nature of these events, Shakespeare, and the cast it must be said, did a fine job turning immediately to humour in the form of Lucio’s interruptions without spoiling my involvement in the play. Life’s like that. It only remains to mention Clifford Rose as Escalus doing a fine job as usual, and I’m almost done.

An excellent production all round, shame about the audience, and we look forward to more opportunities to see work from this source (and perhaps even get down to the West Country to experience it in situ).

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Measure For Measure – September 2006

Experience: 5/10

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