Measure for Measure - Review
Performed by Holt Dramatic Society at the Glove Factory Studios (19/07/18)
Though classed as a Comedy, ‘Measure for Measure’ is really a powerfully intellectual drama and is one of three Shakespearian ‘problem plays’ that uncomfortably fit into this genre. It has unconventional characters and themes (often their fates are governed by high stakes) and unresolved questions and conclusions at the end. Seen historically as strange and dated, it has seen a resurgence in modern times as it weighs personal moral values against theological doctrine and social justice, as well as covering the rights and responsibilities of subjects and rulers. It asks whether and how human behaviour should be regulated by the state and also the very nature of good and evil itself.
Without care it can be difficult for an audience, particularly those new to it, to know quite what to make of the play at times and it needs exceptional contributions from both the Director and the actors to be effective on stage. I’m very pleased to say that Holt Dramatic Society were able to comfortably achieve this with this production.
Content and Structure
Though originally set in 17th Century Vienna, the Director had moved this to the Swinging 1960s, which worked very well – particularly with the changes in social and moral values at that time. Dialogue and scene changes were all conducted at suitable pace, which added to the controlled and professional feeling of the production. It was evident that a lot of rehearsal time had been spent on getting the dialogue right and guiding the audience through the drama and the comedy in the play – which generally worked very, very well.
The only real note here was that at the very end of the production on the night I attended, it probably needed Isabella to get into her final spotlight before the cast left, to really get the effect you were looking for and stop the audience thinking the production had already finished.
This is the first Holt production I’ve reviewed at the Glove Factory Studios and the space used worked most effectively. The staging made excellent use of the existing buildings which created most of the staging itself – an enclosed performing area, an upper Balcony level and entrances from 4 sides of the playing area. I particularly enjoyed the entrance set through the audience.
Some in the backrow of the audience mentioned that they could not see the action on the balcony, due to the overhang of the awning over the audience. I’m sure this is something that could be addressed for the future.
Set dressing was generally minimalist but of the period and effective. I really did like the glass window effect used for the prison scene.
Lighting, Sound and Music
On a warm evening this really didn’t feel like an outdoor production, but it still needed lighting for when it got darker, which worked well, as did the central spot for the end. I wasn’t aware of any obvious amplification of the performers and all projected their voices well. Sound effects and musical interludes were generally well-cued and suitable. There was a good use of 60’s music to support the setting, change scenes and support the themes. It was well-used to grab the audience’s attention at the start of Act 1 and Act 3 after the interval. A very nice job overall!
Costumes, Properties, Hair and Make-Up
The 1960s styling worked well with the costumes, which I’m sure made it easier to obtain too! Suits were sharp and dark for the serious characters and officials, with costumes more coloured for those caught up in their world and politics – such as Claudio, Mariana and Juliet. This was taken further for the comic characters – I really enjoyed Lucio’s variation on the theme (complete with the flower) and the comic outfits for Pompey and Mistress Overdone in particular. Suitable wear was obtained for the religious characters too.
I wasn’t too sure about the masks at the start of Act 1 as to what they were needed for or represented. Hair and Make-Up complemented the costumes well. Props were generally in fitting with the period and were where they needed to be at the right time.
Holt Dramatic Society has an excellent reputation for the quality of their acting across their whole cast, and this production was no exception to that. I’ll review the main characters:
Duke Vincentio / Friar Ludowick – Dominic O’Connor
With all 852 lines, this is a truly enormous part – one of the largest Shakespeare created, but it didn’t feel as such. Dominic built a Duke that we could empathize with and understand. He resisted the temptation to make him Machiavellian like, so we believed he really didn’t know what Angelo was really like before appointing him. We were even able to go with his scheme to let Isabella believe her brother had been executed. The disguise as Friar Ludowick was successful, with the broader accent used. I do not know the dialogue well-enough to determine if some of the audience laughs generated as the Friar were intentional or not. The inquisition and revelation in Act 5 is a difficult scene to complete successfully and was very well-done – acting as an impressive end to the production. There was genuine disappointment generated with Isabella’s lack of response to his proposal, which is testament to the depth of the character Dominic created. Very well done on a very natural performance.
Angelo – Marc Bessant
Marc put in a really strong performance as the Duke’s cold and authoritarian deputy. He did this through both his words and his physicality, which never lapsed. Movements and dialogue were precise and controlled. The detail of his mannerisms – the tidying of the desk and the wiping of surfaces with the handkerchief for example were verging on the compulsive and really helped to complete our view of the character.
We were then able to see his control change and weaken in Act 2. His physical assault on Isabella left the audience shocked, reviled but equally compelled. You could further see his torment in the scene when Isabella pleads her brother’s case and distress in Act 4. For this character to really work, you need to see there is some human warmth beneath the surface, which Marc clearly made evident in his acceptance of wrong doing at the end and in the saving of his life. Overall, an excellent interpretation of the character.
Escalus – David Gatliffe
This is a difficult part as it can often be seen as relatively unimportant. Escalus means ‘scales’ (I did have to look this up!) and as we know this is a play of balance and judgement. Thus, Escalus is in many ways is the voice of rational justice in the play. David portrayed this role really well and in a very well-controlled manner, looking to temper the extremes of Angelo and the requirements of the Duke.
Claudio – Giles de Rivaz
Playing a condemned man for the whole show is never easy and Giles achieved this very nicely. He really came into his own in the prison cell, where we were able to see him portray a whole range of emotions, from hope to turmoil, desperation and anger as he discovered Sister’s refusal to offer herself to save him. Well done!
Lucio – Al Brunker
Lucio acts as some light relief to the world of Vincentio and Angelo and Al Brunker created a memorable role as this quick-witted and sharp-toughed philanderer. He really made the very best of this part, through great comic timing, a thorough understanding of the words used and some delightful physicality. Al was never afraid to play to the audience and with some great play on words. Though the role was exaggerated, it really needed to be. The audience delighted in his build-up and reaction to discovery of who Friar Ludowick really was and then genuinely felt for him in the repercussions, which is the sign of the compilation of a great character. Super job.
Isabella – Olivia Hicks
As the chaste and religious sister to Claudio, this is a really difficult part to play as it is nearly all in some kind of heightened emotional state and there is a lack of fear that the character has in expressing them. Olivia made a real success of the part and in the range of emotional performances that she was able to create. We saw this particularly as she built-up her plea for her brother’s case to Angelo. There was a strong on-stage chemistry in that relationship with Angelo that made it all the more compelling. We saw the same range in the emotional discussion with her brother in prison and in her reaction to her brother’s apparent death and joy at his survival. Though we had a connection with the Duke, we were also able to identify why she would not have wished to accept his offer of marriage. A very well-controlled and thought-out performance. Well done!
Provost – Richard Goodman
Provost felt like a constant in the production. I’d like to say this was a great cameo, but at 158 lines this is no cameo! I really liked how you constructed and played this part - very well done.
Pompey – Graham Billing
Pompey is seen as one of the great comic roles in Shakespeare’s later comedies and is a part well-made for Graham Billing. He made the best of every line given, taking the audience with him regardless of whether they completely understood all the punchlines thrown. The interaction with the audience and his frequent entrances in and out of the audience area assisted with this. The evidence of success was in audience’s acceptance of some of the unsettling nature of some of the content – such as the merits of pimping and prison execution. A very well-controlled performance.
Mistress Overdone – Sue Bolden
Sue made the part of the charming corrupt brother-keeper seem much more than the few lines that it actually is. A real delight.
Elbow / Abhorson – Ian Harding
Elbow needs to be delightfully inept as the Constable and Ian certainly achieved this. This was a well put-together performance – topped with that hat over the eyes!
Mariana – Meg Nott
Meg did really well as the girl betrothed and rejected by Angelo.
Friar Peter – Joel Harding
Joel was fully committed to the part and delivered his dialogue well.
Froth / Barnadine – John Potter
Froth is a good fun cameo role that John made the best of.
Other Cast Members
Fiona Young, Max Von Boeventer and the Backstage Crew all completed their roles and assisted with the production well, enhancing the overall performance. I particularly their use at the start of Act 3 for the prison scene.
Measure for Measure is no easy Shakespeare play to put on, but Holt Dramatic Society made a real success of it. This was through excellent on-stage performances from the whole cast, supported by simple but effective staging. The audience’s full attention and thought was maintained throughout. Directors Simon Blacksell and Fiona Young, the whole cast and the production team should be well-pleased with their work.
Achievement can be measured by the audience leaving with the sense of acting as both judge and arbiter to the events – perhaps to succeed where the Duke and Angelo failed? The play should present food for thought as well as entertainment. In both of these aspects, the requirements were more than successfully met.
Matthew Heaton, NODA South West