I have to admit I've had precious little involvement with the play before; therefore it was always going to be interesting to see how the story conveyed to me. I was not disappointed in the least.
The stand-out performance goes to Raymond Coulthard as the somewhat enigmatic yet slightly effeminate Duke Vincentio, complete with sleight of hand trickery and knowing asides to the audience, deploying particularly fine skill in his soliloquies.
It is fair to say this production is very accessible to those unfamiliar with Shakespeare, with strong techniques to guide the audience through. However, it’s entirely possible those with in-depth knowledge of the play may feel slightly short-changed (a sentiment I heard expressed more than once within the theatre).
Excellent verse control is exhibited by all – especially by Jamie Ballard’s Angelo and Paul Chahidi’s Lucio (displaying fine comic ability along the way). It is, sadly, rare to see a production in which every spoken word is clear, precise and delivered with real clarity of meaning.
Mark Quartley and Jodie McNee (siblings Claudio and Isabella) deliver controlled and precise performances as the condemned and his hope, the latter capably carries a weight of the role and will surely grow as the production runs.
Mention must be given to Daniel Stewart’s Barnardine (bloody-mindedly refusing to be beheaded whilst drunk), giving an excellent and perfectly formed interpretation, also to the calming Escalus (Geoffery Beevers) and Provost (superb Bruce Alexander).
I saw little point in the seemingly obligatory RSC dance, which occurs
at the climax – the production would feel cleaner had the piece ended with the Duke’s final line, especially as
no form of movement is displayed elsewhere during the nigh-on three
hour running time (unless light S&M and spanking classifies as
The bondage brothel setting is a concept that works thoroughly well, juxtaposed by the clean-cut confines of the nunnery and the Venetian corridors of power.
The piece is complemented by Garance Marneur’s delightfully simple design working in unison with Chanine Yavroyan’s versatile lighting – displayed alongside the gorgeous music of composer Dave Price, making his RSC debut.
Whilst perhaps not a production for seasoned theatregoers, it's an ideal introduction to Shakespeare without being dumbed down. A worthy addition to the winter repertoire.
- Daniel Whitley