In his first Shakespeare offering of the year, prior to giving his Hamlet at the National in September, Rory Kinnear has wowed the critics with his performance as the corruptible politician Angelo in Measure for Measure at the Almeida Theatre (See News, 14 Oct 2008).
The bard’s dark comedy, widely acknowledged as one of his “problem plays”, is directed by Almeida artistic director Michael Attenborough and also stars Anna Maxwell Martin as Isabella, a novice nun and desperate sister of a condemned man who Angelo tries to seduce, and Ben Miles as the Duke of Vienna, who disguises himself to expose Angelo, his once-trusted deputy. Measure for Measure opened on 18 February 2010 (previews from 11 February) and continues until 10 April.
Overnight critics lauded Attenborough’s “inspired”, “clear”, “coherent”, “extraordinarily fresh and arresting take” on the Shakespeare classic, in which “it is as if every moment in the play has been pondered anew”. There was also appreciation for Miles’ “psychologically searching” and “intense” Duke and Maxwell Martin’s “dour” Isabella and for the comic support provided by Lloyd Hutchinson and Trevor Cooper.
But the lion’s share of accolades went to Rory Kinnear for his “discerning”, “compelling”, “bracingly honest”, “finely sketched” and quite simply “outstanding” performance as Angelo. After this measured offering, critics will doubtlessly be looking forward to his Great Dane.
Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “At the heart of the production is a fine performance from Rory Kinnear as Angelo. Rather than the usual authoritarian figure, his is a humble bureaucrat, seemingly promoted beyond his ability and trying to cope with the consequences … He’s like a schoolboy going on his first date or, perhaps more realistically, retreating to his bedroom with a pile of dirty magazines. It’s a finely sketched picture of neurosis and one that reinforces the idea that here’s a basically decent man gone wrong … There’s an equally strong performance from Anna Maxwell Martin as one of the most dour Isabellas I’ve ever seen. … Where Attenborough’s production stumbles is that we don’t get much of a sense of why Ben Miles’ Duke gives up the dukedom … There’s an excellent Lucio from Lloyd Hutchinson, his Irish accent adding a touch of charm to his tall tales about the Duke’s alleged misdeeds ... While this isn’t as dark and psychologically enlightening as other recent versions of the play, Kinnear and Maxwell Martin alone offer compelling reasons to catch it if you can.”
Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (five stars) – “Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s more flawed creations yet it contains three superb roles, and in Michael Attenborough’s inspired production they are played with both gravity and a fantastic sparkle … Much of the humour derives from the minor characters, and the roles are perfectly cast, with Lloyd Hutchinson especially good as Lucio … Ben Miles is a fidgety, intense Duke … This is a finely controlled interpretation, discerning and nuanced. So too is Anna Maxwell Martin’s Isabella: her default setting is a kind of ceremonious severity but then she flares into quavering anxiety and frenzied argument, only to return to waxy composure … Yet it is Rory Kinnear as Angelo who dazzles most. Initially resembling a Seventies geography teacher, he transforms into a pervy Stasi officer before mutating again and then again. It’s a stunningly detailed performance — layered, intelligent and bracingly honest ... You would struggle to find a more cogent account of this strange, unsettling and at times beautiful play.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) – “While Michael Attenborough's modern-dress production doesn't pursue the contemporary resonances as rigorously as recent versions by Declan Donnellan and Simon McBurney, it is clear, coherent and very good on individual psychology … As Angelo, Rory Kinnear is outstanding … Where most Angelos are propelled by lust, Kinnear's is smitten by love … While Ben Miles is perfectly decent as the disguised duke who sets the play in motion, he never makes it clear whether the man is a squalid fixer or dispenser of divine justice. But there is good work from Lloyd Hutchinson who plays Lucio … I've seen Measures that create a more vivid Vienna, but the strength of the production lies in its suggestion that it is a play about two imperfect moralists who would, in a better world, make a perfect match.”
Benedict Nightingale The Times (four stars) – “There are many ways to play Angelo, the moral zealot who tries to clean up sexually impure Vienna, only to discover his own impurities. There are many ways to play the Duke ... And that’s one of the reasons why Measure for Measure is often seen as a ‘problem play’: meaning that it foxes academics who can’t admit that, while Shakespeare sets up his plot with Bardic brilliance, he resolves it as if he were hoping one day to be hired by Mills & Boon. Both (Kinnear and Maxwell Martin) bring unusual sense and sensibility to Michael Attenborough’s modern-dress production. Rory Kinnear's Angelo is in a constant state of surprised self-discovery ... I like this intelligent, shifty, troubled Angelo a lot, and Ben Miles' Duke not much less ... There are fine supporting performances, especially from Lloyd Hutchinson as the sauntering, cynical roué Lucio and Trevor Cooper as the big, bouncer-like pimp Pompey. And who can say that Measure for Measure, for all its flaws, isn’t as topical as ever? It’s not as if sex can’t still dupe, flummox, hurt and damage us.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent (five stars) – “This is an extraordinarily fresh and arresting take on Measure for Measure. It is as if every moment in the play has been pondered anew ... Every flickering moment in this eerily well-paced production quivers with possibilities. I loved the way that after concocting an ingeniously cruel punishment for Lloyd Hutchinson's hilariously louche, Irish Lucio, Ben Miles' psychologically searching Duke has the grace to laugh at the comic elaboration of the penalty and commute it. And I so admired it that even when she flings herself into the role of asking for forgiveness for Angelo, Maxwell Martin, in the course of staring hard at her erstwhile oppressor, wavers for a vertiginous few seconds in her crucial bid for clemency. Truly thrilling.”