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ARCHIVE PAGE FOR - Measure For Measure (1998)

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Play by Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Boyd.

How do you live when you know you are going to die?
If you are not in love how can you bear the loneliness?
How can you be chaste with desire banging on the bedroom door?
How do you forgive judicial murder?
How do you stay true to yourself without being self-centred and lonely?
Do you obey the law, just because you are afraid of the consquences?
How do you love your neighbour when you don't like him?
How do you get a beautiful nun into bed?

Measure for Measure addresses these questions...do you?

Cast includes Stephen Boxer (Angelo), Cathryn Bradshaw (Mariana), Jimmy Chisholm (Pompey), Robert Glenister (Vincentio), Clare Holman (Isabella), Stephen Kennedy (Claudio), Gavin Muir (Escalus), Lalor Roddy (Provost) and Adrian Schiller (Lucio).

Seen at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon - Previewed 23 April, Opened 30 April 1998, Closed 3 September 1998

BARBICAN Theatre previewed 14 January, opened 20 January 1999, closed 2 March 1999

Extracts from the reviews:

"Most actors playing the Duke begin Measure for Measure in fine, princely style. They calmly hand over the running of Vienna to the puritannical Angelo and sedately leave for their sabbatical. Not in Michael Boyd's production. Robert Glenister slumps grey-faced in a chair with a gin bottle while extracts from Revelation play on the wooden wall behind him, and then, hearing his aides beating down the door, totters down a walkway into the stalls. Angelo, Escalus et al are left to hear his instructions relayed to them via the sort of creaky gramophone you might have found in Schnitzler's Vienna, circa 1900. It is awkward; it involves unfortunate cuts; it makes nonsense of Escalus's later claim, that the Duke is "a gentleman of all temperance"; yet I cannot regret it. One reason why Measure for Measure is classified as a problem play is that the Duke's motives in disguising himself as a friar and spying on Angelo are hard to explain in any normal way: so hard that scholars have been impelled to see him as symbolising God, Christ, James I, Heaven knows whom. Glenister's Duke has, you feel, been propelled into a nervous breakdown by the confusions and contradictions, expectations and disappointments of exercising power in messy Vienna. How will a quite different kind of man - the cool, tough, stainless Angelo - deal with the pressures? This emphasis gives the play a more overtly political tilt than usual; and, though I blinked at the moment when the returning Duke's irregulars disarmed Angelo's well-drilled officers and ensured that there would be no coup in dear old Vienna, I cannot regret that either. Stephen Boxer gives a quietly terrifying performance as the corrupt incorruptible himself... Boxer's Angelo is aggressive, cynical, arrogantly self-confident, contemptuous of lesser mortals and, in his frosty, dispassionate way, very fond indeed of power... Boyd's approach, bold and even brilliant though it is, rewards some areas of the play more than others. The object of Angelo's predatory lust, Isabella, is somewhat sidelined, feelingly played though she is by Clare Holman. But the brothel and jail scenes are pretty strong. When whores are lazily whipping transvestite men, or the pimp Pompey is playing comically sadistic games with his fellow prisoners, you can see why Boxer's punitive Angelo has political appeal..." Benedict Nightingale, The Times

"Though difficult, Measure for Measure can be a thrilling play, charged with sexual tension and heady moral debate, riddled with conundrums and carried by a narrative that twists and turns like a mountain road. Michael Boyd's bold RSC production seizes on this dark comedy with relish and squares up to some of its tougher scenes with unpredictable and illuminating insight. Yet the staging is patchy and doesn't carry off the narrative's cut and thrust with such success, and so it never fulfils its own potential. Boyd's innovations begin with the tricky opening scene. One of the drama's many puzzles is why the Duke of Vienna so abruptly abandons his office, leaving power in the hands of his starchy deputy. Here we see the Duke (a driven Robert Glenister), in Edwardian dress, in a desperate and drunken fever, dictating his opening speech into a phonograph then fleeing, leaving his appointment of Angelo to be listened to in his absence. This suggests that his departure may have been brewing for some time and also that, while he is tormented by the debauchery into which his state has fallen, he might also be fearful of Angelo's capabilities. While the play is driven by ethical and moral debate, it is also very much about power, and Boyd centres the production on the power struggle and abuses of power to which both Angelo and the Duke succumb... We note how the Duke, in disguise, manipulates events and people to trap Angelo and only recovers his composure when he can seize control and play judge and juror himself, however mercifully. It is a stark lesson in how power can corrupt. In this respect, the production is imaginative and modern. The Edwardian setting makes sense of the conflict between the buttoned-up law and unfettered instinct, yet Tom Piper's austere set with its blonde wood and dominating elegant staircase, would not look out of place in an upmarket 1990s eaterie. But while some aspects of the play emerge freshly, others are muted, and the narrative twists, as the characters struggle with their principles, can be far more dramatic than they are here. Most notably underpowered are the central scenes between Isabella and Angelo... This is a provocative production but is very good only in parts - it doesn't give us the full measure." Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times

"Director Michael Boyd has become the RSC's chief fixer of troublesome plays, but Shakespeare's cruellest and most improbable comedy has defeated him. Some critics loved his desperately tricksy, piecemeal production in Stratford last year, but most disliked it, and I'm in the latter camp. This Measure for Measure, the company's third in 10 years, has its striking moments, but gives off an air of invention for invention's sake. Even worse than the frantic iconoclasm, though, is the very real threat of boredom. Boyd handles the Duke of Vienna's inexplicable abdication in the opening scene well, depicting him as an Edwardian administrator in the last stages of alcoholic breakdown. Unfortunately, neither this diagnosis nor the design concept hold up. Tom Piper's set takes on a Shaker-style plainness once Stephen Boxer's puritanical Angelo has assumed power, then segues into retro-totalitarian chic when lust overcomes Angelo's stringent principles... Worse than the stylistic quirks, the intrusive drum-and-trumpet music and the biblical quotations projected on the back wall, is the fact that Boyd's production features some very good actors giving some very dull performances... The Duke's final unmasking and his revenge on all present - even though it is staged, ridiculously, as a botched coup d'etat - is riveting. It is almost good enough to make you forget that, until then, the only characters who have both made sense and been consistently entertaining are two brothel denizens: Adrian Schiller's elegantly snide Lucio and Jimmy Chisholm's camply Scottish Pompey. Such sharp characterisations indicate that Boyd's production cannot be dismissed out of hand. But when an RSC production of Measure for Measure belongs to the lowlifes rather than the lead roles, something has gone badly wrong." Nick Curtis, London Evening Standard

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