Review: Measure for Measure

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Durham University Classical Theatre’s production of Measure for Measure hits all the right notes, both comedic and poignant when it needs to be. Upon arrival at the Assembly Rooms Theatre, I am struck completely by ’s set design, reflective of the period in which Shakespeare’s ‘problem play’ is set. The cool-toned lighting paired with the candlelit stage sets the tone for the play ahead and the simplistic yet effective use of the relatively small stage is clear from the beginning. Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, so at the beginning I am quite unsure of what to expect, but DUCT set out their vision for the play from the very beginning, before actors have even stepped onto the stage.

The relevance of a play like Measure for Measure today cannot be ignored; themes of misogyny, sexual coercion and patriarchal institutions of power are all subjects which are being talked about today more than ever. Co-Directors and seem to take on this aspect of the narrative and focus on the strength and dilemma of Isabella throughout the play, an anomaly in terms of Shakespeare’s female characters, neither the sinister, ambitious Lady Macbeth, nor the innocent and virtuous Juliet.

Choices have clearly been intentionally made with the emotions and actions of characters in mind, something to appreciate

An aspect of the play which is particularly interesting is the costume, designed by both and Constance Donald. There is a clear juxtaposition between the modernity of some characters’ costumes and the set itself at times. However, though modern pieces are used for characters such as Angelo and Isabella, the simplicity of the colours used doesn’t allow this irregularity to detract from the archaic feel of the play. In fact, the monochromatic colour scheme used for the majority of the cast serves to enhance the way in which the actors can fully embody their characters without being held back in any way.

As mentioned before, the lighting of the play plays a large role in the narrative flow. Whether it be the stark spotlight upon Isabella during her soliloquy, the shift of focus from the main stage to just in front, where the audience can focus on Angelo’s internal conflict, or the use of both real and imitation candlelight to highlight the deception which Isabella and Mariana commit, choices have clearly been intentionally made with the emotions and actions of characters in mind, something to appreciate.

Measure for Measure is rich in Durham’s best acting talent

As a whole, the play flows extremely well, and line mishaps are few and far between. During their opening night, I find it hard to believe this cast has not been performing this show for a few days already. However, there is a tendency for long lines to be rushed at times, which impedes understanding of the play. Occasionally, scenes are lacking in characterisation, but this problem is compensated for by the talent of the cast as individuals. The subtle use of music throughout the production significantly aids in setting the tone of each scene, and the lack of mics is no problem for the actors, who are masters of projection.

Performance-wise, Measure for Measure is rich in Durham’s best acting talent. Notable performances include Alannah O’Hare’s Isabella, a strong intelligent portrayal who captures the audience with her frankly beautiful cadence and diction, and ’s menacing Angelo, a character with inner conflict and complexities which Cochran truly portrays in depth through his acting skills, making the antagonist of the play a true a joy to watch. effortlessly performs the wit and dryness of Escalus, while acts as the perfect comedic relief in the play, making the audience laugh out loud many times with his bumbling, know-it-all portrayal of Lucio.

Overall, Measure for Measure is an excellent production. DUCT have crafted an engaging production, not only for their audience but for their cast too. Rich in humour, poignancy and real acting talent, it is certainly not one to be missed.

Image credit: DUCT

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