Measure for Measure @ Almeida Theatre, London

cast list
Rory Kinnear, Anna Maxwell Martin, Ben Miles, David Annen, Daisy Boulton, Flaminia Cinque, Trevor Cooper, Emun Elliott, David Killick, Victoria Lloyd, Jessica Tomchak, Tony Turner, Andrew French, Lloyd Hutchinson, Sean Kearns, Mark Monero, Nick Richards

directed by
Michael Attenborough
Measure for Measure is often categorised as one of Shakespeares problem plays, meaning it doesnt easily fit into the boxes marked comedy and tragedy, but falls awkwardly in between.

Its a morally muddy piece that raises as many questions as it answers.

A better way of viewing it is as a challenge rather than a problem; it takes clarity of vision and some strong assured performances to pull it off with any degree of success, something Michael Attenborough manages with his modern dress production at the Almeida.

The first few minutes are full of writhing and thrusting bodies, a gaggle of prostitutes tottering about in quim-skimming skirts, which rapidly serves to establish the Vienna of the play as a place riddled with vice and corruption.
The Duke, who seems keen to clean things up, decides its necessary for him to view society from a different perspective, his identity concealed under a friars cowl. He appoints the uptight Angelo to be his deputy in his absence, a man who at first seems up to the task; he is rigid and diligent, excessively so, and quite able to send a man to his death for having sex out of wedlock.

Isabella, a novitiate nun, clad from neck to ankle in black, comes to plead for her condemned brother and Angelo is knocked off course by the mere sight of her. She taps into some dark seam within him and he attempts to use his new authority to claim what he suddenly, feverishly needs to possess.

Rory Kinnear is superb as Angelo. To begin with he is socially awkward, a bit of a nebbish in his specs and cheap suit. There is something almost endearing about the way he frets about Isabellas imminent arrival, putting in his contacts and tidying his desk, but this is quickly undercut by his sweaty-palmed pawing of her and his very indecent proposal, his actions charged with lust and frustration. Yet he seems almost as shocked as she is by his behaviour, by the aggressive, scheming individual he finds himself becoming, a man driven by urges he has perhaps not felt before and cant process in any normal way. As played by Kinnear, hes a conniving hypocrite but not a monster.

Anna Maxwell Martin is clear-eyed and determined as Isabella, perfectly plausible as a woman who would consider sacrificing her brothers life in order to maintain her chastity. Her inner struggle is evident but there is also a slight trace of petulance and self-righteousness to her sheen of dignity.

Ben Miless Duke Vincentio remains an enigma. He seems slightly uncomfortable within his own skin, nervy and troubled. Though clearly unsettled by the murky world he finds himself in, he takes some pleasure in the complex string of machinations and deceptions he instigates and his motivations are never quite clear. Returned to his ducal finery he seems oddly exposed and inadequate.

Though his is a far broader performance, Lloyd Hutchinson displays sound comic timing and judgement as the manipulative wide boy, Lucio, playing both sides against each other and revelling in the chaos, though his punishment for his behaviour seems excessively harsh.

The seedy, red-light aesthetic evoked by Lez Brotherstons set doesnt always sit comfortably with tone of the piece. The clash is too dramatic. Yet, for the most part, Attenboroughs production manages to achieve resonance whilst still fully conveying the plays complexities. The cast are a joy to watch and when the production hits its stride the whole things sings.

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