Theatre in Wales

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A Tight Effective “Measure”

At Theatr Clwyd

Clwyd Theatr Cymru- Measure for Measure , Emlyn Williams Theatre, Theatr Clwyd Cymru , April 14, 2008
At Theatr Clwyd by Clwyd Theatr Cymru- Measure for Measure A draconian, unworkable law is revived and applied selectively. A disguised, manipulative autocrat hides behind an all-powerful deputy. Justice is tradable for sexual favour. The temptations to give “Measure for Measure” a modern spin are considerable. It was not so long back that a great director covered his stage with video cameras turning Shakespeare’s Vienna into a twenty-first century surveillance state.

Director Phillip Breen has resisted all such temptation. Within the relatively restricted space at his disposal he has opted for a fast-paced production, spare in set detail, sombrely coloured, with moments of black humour.

A high rose window shines over the stage, a reminder we are in an age that is not our own. In Isabella’s opening scene her dialogue with Francisca, the elder nun, takes place before a life-size crucified Christ. In the subsequent first crucial scene with Angelo, the opening of Shakespeare’s dialectic on justice versus mercy, her language is rich with religious infusion. Heaven and hell have now generally passed over into the domain of metaphor. In this interpretation we are reminded that these are real entities for her, that, in her repeated reference, prayer is indeed “ the Churches banquet, Angels age, God’s breath in man.”

Phillip Breen has cast the two principal parts with young actors. Whatever age Leila Crerar might be, with her face enclosed in a white veil, her Isabella has the look of the young noviciate. When Duke Vincentio explains his latest devious scheme Ms Crerar’s eyes narrow; the intelligence is that of the eager pupil.

Paul Amos gives his similarly youthful Angelo a flash of teeth and an easy smile. He is recognisable; this is the Balliol double first, the good-looking policy wonk, promoted too young, too early to the ambiguities of executive office. His youth makes his flip-over to moral blackmail all the more believable.

The production fields a cast of twenty. As would be expected Steven Elliot is a commanding stage presence with a dishevelled Lucio, taking pause for regular swigs from his hip flask. Richard Elis offers an irrepressible, effervescent Pompey and in the small part of Master Froth Guy Lewis makes a strong impression, helped not least by a memorable shock of hair that looks fresh from an outing in a wind tunnel.

Visually the production is sombre. The set comprises a trio of dark flat arches. The police have stepped out of a “Simplicissimus” cartoon and meet with darkly cowled monks. Rachel Lumberg as Mistress Overdone wears a dress in lurid purple, that stands out all the more for its colour contrast.

By circumstance I was obliged to see the first preview performance. A review is not entirely fair on cast or backstage team, particularly where a production is staged in the round. It required some nimble adaptation in the actors’ voice projection to the sheer sound–absorbing presence of two hundred plus stolid bodies. From the quality of the preview this “Measure for Measure” is set to mature into another creditable addition to the theatre’s track record.

Reading between the lines this may be Phillip Breen’s first Shakespeare production. If that is the case then Theatr Clwyd Cymru should take pause for a short interval of self-congratulation for an interpretation that is tight, intelligent and unshowy.

“Measure for Measure” continues until 3rd May,

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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