thu 21/11/2019

Globe to Globe: Measure For Measure, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Globe to Globe: Measure For Measure, Shakespeare's Globe

Globe to Globe: Measure For Measure, Shakespeare's Globe

Free-wheeling Russian take on the morality play

Sergey Epishev as Angelo; he also plays the Duke Pictures by Simon Kane

What a joy this once-in-a-generation season is. From Moscow comes this free-wheeling production of Shakespeare's great morality play, and one that also makes remarkably free with the text too. Even those familiar with Measure For Measure will be thankful for the surtitles, particularly in the second act when director Yury Butusov dispenses with whole scenes, including the denouement.

It starts with the familiar story; we are in Vienna, a city that has fallen into dissoluteness, where the Duke hands over power to his stern deputy Angelo, only to disguise himself as a monk to see how Angelo will go about the task. But Angelo is corrupted by power and after condemning Claudio to death for making his lover Juliet pregnant, he then demands that Claudio's sister, Isabella, abandon her nun's vows to sleep with him in exchange for her brother’s life. The Duke devises a plan to save Claudio and bring Angelo to book, but also to have Isabella for himself.

Vakhtangov Theatre (named after the influential director Yevgeny Vakhtangov, who died in 1922) is famed for uniting the twin influences of Meyerhold and Stanislavsky; Meyerhold was big on symbolism and it shows here. As the play opens the cast litter the stage with rubbish and when Angelo appears they clear it away, and tables are repeatedly turned in various scenes on an otherwise empty set.

Vakhtangov is also known for the physicality of its performances and there's an awful lot of stage business - mugging, having a member of the audience to hand a prop to the cast, making improv comedy out of a plastic glass being stood on noisily by a groundling. It could be irritating, but when it works, it really does work; we see the moral tightrope Isabella is walking between virtue and loyalty as she carefully treads an imaginary line on stage, and her scenes with both Angelo and later the Duke are choreographed as if in a ballet.

The director has cast Sergey Epishev (pictured with Evgeniya Kregzhde) as both Duke and Angelo, so he sets out his stall early; we know that they are two sides of the same coin, men who are equally prey to their weaknesses, whether it be lust or ego. The casting means the denouement, where the Duke reveals to a shocked Angelo and Co what he has done, cannot, of course, happen here. Instead the surtitles tell us what has transpired and this production's last scene, between the Duke and Isabella, has a stunning impact.

This is a very clear, if very individual, reading of the play. Epishev nicely delineates his two characters, while Evgeniya Kregzhde is heartbreaking as Isabella and Vladimir Beldiyan makes the cowardly Claudio very sympathetic. The rest of the cast are expressive in a highly original and gripping production.

One small quibble with Globe to Globe; why no productions in Celtic and Gaelic languages from the British Isles, or British regional vernaculars? Maybe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole is already planning another season, homegrown this time - I do hope so.

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