But the fault, and fault there is, lies less with the production by Sean Holmes - whose recent The Roman Actor won deserved acclaim, than with the play itself. Put simply, Measure is an unattractive play whose principal characters are themselves, deeply unlovable. What is said of Angelo could be said of all - their "very blood is snow-broth."
The Duke of Vienna has allowed his citizens to lapse into loose morals but cannot punish them for his laxity. He resolves to appoint Angelo, his virtuous deputy, as leader and, under the pretence of travelling abroad, stays behind and, disguised as a friar, watches what ensues. What follows is a study in the corruption of power and an examination of the nature of justice. For critic (and Shakespeare essayist) Frank Kermode the first half of the play is a masterpiece, thereafter much less so.
But the inability to engage with the leading characters, the Duke, Angelo and Isabella (who refuses to sacrifice her virginity to Angelo in return for her brother's life), howsoever Shakespeare intended us to respond, means our sympathies are rarely engaged. The austerity of the set - a brick wall, barbed wire and bare tree - while appropriate, doesn't help.
The updating of the action to Third Man post-World War Two territory is attractively done but leads to the usual anomalies. While the text refers to hanging, a guillotine is produced - execution for adultery? In post-war Vienna? At one point a character produces a sword.
Some have found fault with the leading performances, but Daniel Evans, all prissy pedagogue as Angelo, Emma Fielding as Isabella, and Paul Higgins as the Duke, are all fine. The evening though, surely belongs John Lloyd Fillingham as Lucio, the irrepressible rapscallion bawd, who brings a welcome breath of rude humanity, with all its frailties, to this chilly tale.
- Pete Wood