Romola Garai as Isabella, credit Keith Pattison
I’D wager that it’s not often that you go to the theatre and see in the opening scene a stage full of inflatable dolls.
Well, head on down to the Young Vic and that’s precisely what greats you in a new and highly charged production of Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure.
Director Joe Hill-Gibbins has set it very firmly in the 21st century and amplifies the excesses of Vienna from which the Duke wants to absent himself.
It is dark, seedy, anarchic, with unscrupulous characters, full of plotting and conniving, lechery and debauchery. No wonder Zubin Varla’s Duke wanted to escape – it is a cesspit of vulgarity and corruption.
Once the cast have extricated themselves from beneath the sea of dolls, the Duke bids farewell and entrusts his leadership to his deputy, the fiercely puritanical Angelo (Paul Ready) who interprets the law to the absolute letter. His first decision is to condemn one Claudio (Ivanno Jeremiah) to death for getting his girlfriend pregnant.
It falls to Lucio, played as a somewhat dour Scotsman by John Mackay to entreat Claudio’s sister Isabella (Romola Garai), a novice nun, to plead for his life.
The action takes place inside a rectangular box with a door at the back which leads to a space that looks like a rehearsal area.
The company, credit Keith Pattison
It is here, behind the closed door that the blow up dolls have been thrown and where the worst of excesses happen – and we only get to see it when viewed on a screen on the back wall thanks to a video camera which follows the action in the back room.
The production is just under two hours straight through thanks to a prune of the original text and it is largely successful. However, I wasn’t keen on the use of the video camera and some of the humour that comes from Lucio was a bit lost, but that aside the actors were superb particularly Romola Garai who lit up the stage.
Measure for Measure is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, until November 14. Tickets from £10. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.