Shakespeare may not naturally appeal to you, but his less famous play ‘Measure for Measure’ has been a hit at the Young Vic for the last couple of weeks. With Romola Garai, star of the film ‘I Capture the Castle’ based on the novel by Dodie Smith, it is a successfully modernised version of a play that may have otherwise been quite dry.
Romola Garai is an incredibly passionate performer, shown in her depiction of the role of Isabella, sister of Claudio, a pious nun who only wants to do right. Claudio has impregnated his wife-to-be (Julietta), and the stand-in for the Duke who is away ‘on diplomatic business’ wants to crack the whip at Vienna. The stand-in is a strict judge, Angelo, who will not take any nonsense – until Isabella comes. She is fair, clever in her wording and almost persuades Angelo that he is wrong in persecuting Claudio. She constantly relates back to God and how Angelo would be feeling and what he would do in this situation. Angelo is softened by Isabella’s passionate wording and even says as an aside that Isabella is right. Of course, he cannot ruin his reputation by letting Claudio off the hook. Instead, he tells her that he may relax Claudio’s sentence if she has intercourse with him. The plan she then formulates is most unexpected. At certain points, Isabella threatens to Claudio that she will not let him live with his selfishness, as he agrees with her losing her saintly virginity so that he can live a free man. Being a nun, Isabella detests this idea.
The scene was set incredibly cleverly in that we could see the play was based around brothels, intercourse and their effects; at the beginning of the play, for example, all the audience could see was a screen obscuring hundreds of inflatable naked bodies. The male characters in the play were seen practically dancing with the inflatables, representing a brothel in an acutely explicit yet understandable way. The chaos of the scene effectively matched the chaos of the entire play, conveying a theme that ran similarly throughout. Perhaps not quite the play for youngsters, Measure for Measure contains many sexual references and rude connotations with names and gestures. A clever way to show two scenes at the same time used was projecting what was being filmed by a camera in the background on to a wall and a conversation being held alongside it in the foreground. There were two main areas of the stage: the front (where the inflatable bodies originally were) and the back (where the bodies were swiftly moved to). These two areas were often separated by a white wall with a door, which was used effectively for projecting film on. The back area of the stage represented a prison, in which Claudio and a few other criminals were kept. The door buzzed every time a person opened it, making the prison scene and atmosphere credible. The front area of the stage represented various places, for example a brothel and Angelo’s house. This was where Isabella pleaded with Angelo for Claudio to be freed, and where the beginning scene previously mentioned took place.
If you want to enjoy something different to your normal Shakespeare, I would definitely recommend you seeing this. It is strangely amusing to see a disgusted woman in heels try and pick herself through a crowd of inflatable naked toys, and equally saddening to see what the human race can do in search of power – in this case, Angelo’s cruelty. Enjoy!