Review: Measure For Measure at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal


Who else remembers the heady days of 1997 when the Royal Shakespeare Company first brought their whole – I think nine production – season to Devon?

It was a massive undertaking and audiences, an estimated one in 14 Plymouth people saw a Shakespeare production that year, lapped it up.

Funding issues meant that despite hugely positive critical and audience reactions it eventually stopped, but it’s happily remembered by many people.

There have been the welcome occasional visits to Theatre Royal Plymouth since then, but this year it’s terrific to see three of the main house productions from the 2019 Stratford season here for a residency with a team of 27 actors.

Measure for Measure

And Measure for Measure gets the visit off to an electric start. We see corrupting power, thwarted lust and women treated as incidental objects of pleasure to be possessed or discarded. It feels incredibly relevant.

It tells how the Duke of Vienna, seemingly overwhelmed by his job, goes off travelling, leaving power in the hands of his famously virtuous deputy Angelo.

Self-flagellating Angelo, played crisply here by Sandy Grierson with a Vladimir Putin like sense of self-belief, quickly closes down the brothels and imposes a strict new moral code, arresting people left, right and centre.

The crunch comes when young aspiring nun Isabella, a luminous performance of shattering intensity from Lucy Phelps, pleads for the life of her brother Claudio who has been sentenced to death for formication.

Angelo finds her purity incredibly erotic and tries to strike a deal with her: He’ll pardon her brother if she sleeps with him.

Under director Gregory Doran, the clarity and intensity of this scene grips you. What’s more, when she says “no” and goes and tells her jailed brother – she is doubly shocked that he thinks it’s no great thing to give up your virginity for a life.

There are strong performances all round – and some telling moments. The returned Duke asks to marry Isabella himself despite proclaiming that he is “not that way inclined” while my heart goes out to poor Michael Patrick as one of Shakespeare’s “comedy” characters whose mangled vocabulary is trying. Am I the only one who sits stony faced through such episodes?

We are also being treated to The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It for this season. Here’s hoping they live up to the quality of the first.

The show is running until February 22.

For tickets click here





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