Monday, July 22, 2019

Measure for Measure at the RSC

It's been a very long week, the tickets that I booked last Friday to see Measure for Measure on Wednesday already feels like it happened months ago, not a matter of days. I'm glad I had booked them though, a dose of Shakespeare was as good a distraction as any from job woes.

I’m also feeling particularly grateful for the overall chance of grabbing rush tickets for £10 at the RSC. It’s meant that we've seen a lot more than we normally would this season, and at that price even looming unemployment doesn't make it feel like an extravagance.

Measure for Measure wasn't something we would have particularly planned to see if we'd been paying full price either (I certainly have mixed feelings about Shakespeare), so something else welcome about this season has been seeing how the company handles different roles. I already knew how good Sandy Grierson is, but It was interesting seeing Lucy Phelps and Joseph Arkley again so soon in different roles.

This Measure for Measure is set in a Vienna of about 1900 which possibly helps the audience make more sense of it than a contemporary (1604) one would. Or at least the idea of late Victorian piety and sexual repression make some sense of Angelo and Isabella.

And this is my problem with Shakespeare. Isabella doesn't really make sense to me. Faced with the choice between her brothers life or her virginity, especially if her live brother could marry the girl he's got pregnant, she makes the choice to sacrifice her brother remarkably easily. The more so because she doesn't seem at all worried about Mariana’s chastity when the idea of swapping the two women comes up.

Regardless of my own personal irritation with Shakespeare's general treatment of women, this really is a play that resonates in the #Metoo era. Isabella is right to say that her body isn't a bargaining chip, and even more right not to trust Angelo. Lucy Phelps is excellent in the role, radiating horrified disgust at both Angelo’s words, and his touch. Her equal horror towards the Dukes offer of marriage is masterly.

Sandy Grierson is a brilliant Angelo too - for a character who is such a despicable hypocrite it's no mean feat to elicited some sympathy from the audience. Joseph Arkley is a great Lucio too - a nice blend of charm and villainy who looks to be having the most fun on stage. David Ajao (Pompey, a pimp) and Graeme Brookes are also a treat. David Ajao particularly looks like an actor to watch out for.

Altogether it's been a really strong season so far in Stratford. As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and Measure for Measure have all been excellent with some memorable performances and a company that feels like it's bringing out the best in everybody on stage.

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