Measure for Measure is a play that deals with justice, the law, alongside sexuality and passion. In the Almeida production, Ben Miles plays the Duke as restless and anxious. We are introduced to him pacing across the stage some fifteen minutes before the play has started. It is as if he has got up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, because his conscience is niggling at him.
The pre show sets up a Duke who is unsure and almost desperate, but as the production progresses, as the friar, he becomes much more assured to the point he starts to play games with death. This aspect of his character is as unsettling as the fact he abdicates his responsibility and leaves the state in the hands of the deceitful Angelo.
Venice is a dark place, except for the colour brought by the prostitutes pole dancing in the background. The set and costumes reflect the dark themes in the play. There’s a thoughtful moment on stage where the Duke and Isabella are being dressed in religious robes. His is a disguise, and hers, in contrast, is for real.
I thought that there was a really strong performance from Anna Maxwell Martin. She was particularly powerful in her moments of silence and in her speeches to Angelo. For me, what was interesting about this production was the ending. Productions have tried to deal with the difficulty of whether Isabella accepts the Duke’s proposal or not. Here Anna Maxwell Martin’ Isabella doesn’t need words, she looks at the Duke as if in him she sees a reflection of Angelo. Isabella might be able to fall to her knees to plead for the hypocritical Angelo, but it felt like she cannot forgive the Duke who, as the friar, used his power to take characters to an emotional abyss.
I felt that this was a lovely thoughtful production with touches of humour, but a focus on sexual morality which didn’t feel dated at all.
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