City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

EIF 2016: Measure For Measure, Review

By Justine Blundell - Posted on 18 August 2016

Measure for Measure © Johan Persson.jpg
Show details
Cheek by Jowl & Pushkin Theatre, Moscow
Running time: 
Declan Donnellan (director), Nick Ormerod (designer), Kirill Sbitnev (assistant director), Sergey Skornetskiy (lighting designer), Pavel Akimkin (composer), Irina Kashuba (choreographer)
Alexander Arsentyev (Duke), Iurii Rumiantcev (Escalus), Andrei Kuzichev (Angelo), Kiryl Dytsevich (Claudio), Alexander Matrosov (Provost), Ivan Litvinenko (Executioner), Nikolay Kislichenko (Elbow), Igor Teplov (Barnadine), Alexey Rakhmanov (Pompey/Friar Peter), Anna Khalilulina (Isabella), Elmira Mirel (Mariana/Mistress Overdone)

A stripped back Measure For Measure from Cheek by Jowl and Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre bares the soul of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ play.

Five imposing boxes painted a vivid red dress an otherwise bare stage and, to the background noise of chains and bolts loudly clanging shut, the 13-strong cast shuffle on in a closely packed cluster, moving as one, in silence, between these giant cubes as though walking fearfully and uncertainly through the city streets.

As the play progresses the main characters emerge and disappear back into the crowd, although the 30 or so overhead spotlights unremittingly glaring down upon them lends the ominous impression that, despite the appearance of safety in numbers, there really is nowhere to hide.

The story begins with the Duke temporarily handing over the responsibilities of the State to an austere Angelo, saying he is going to spend some time away, but in reality disguising himself as a friar in order to observe the manner in which the city will be governed in his absence. When Angelo sentences a young man, Claudio, to death for the crime of getting his fiancé pregnant, his pure and chaste sister Isabella leaves her nunnery to plead for his life.

Angelo gives her an ultimatum: she can either have sex with him, or her brother dies. In a sinister fashion he also informs her that, were she to tell of this hypocrisy and corruption, no-one would believe her. Needless to say, a trick or two devised by the intervening Duke-disguised-as-friar is necessary for the play to reach its somewhat unresolved, unsatisfactory and ultimately problematic conclusion.

Spoken in Russian with English subtitles, the themes of State surveillance and corruption versus individual morality and freedom cannot help but bring to mind Putin’s Russia, while reminding us that there are similar issues that also need to be faced much closer to home.

Dispensing with any un-necessaries, Donnellan’s inspired direction allows this production to cut right to the visceral heart of this complex play. Angelo’s scenes with Isabella are particularly disturbing, with him lasciviously licking the chair she has sat on and making ‘sh,sh’ noises as he attempts to rape her. You don’t need to speak Russian or follow the subtitles to understand and connect with what is going on.

A pure exemplar of how Shakespeare can be up-to-date, timely and relevant and at the same time utterly absorbing.

Runs 16 – 20 August, 2016
Tickets: £5-£32