Measure For Measure Review – Excess All Areas In Dromgoole's Globe Farewell

Shakespeare’s play positively seems to invite updating and has been set, at different times, in a Freudian and proto-fascist Vienna and a world of Guantánamo Bay surveillance. But Dominic Dromgoole, in his farewell production at a theatre he has served with distinction, shrewdly confronts Jacobean Puritan rigour with anarchic licentiousness. Even this, however, cannot solve all the play’s problems.

Dromgoole’s production is at its best in the confrontation of Isabella and Angelo. Mariah Gale plays the novice as a modest, quietly spoken figure of absolute spiritual certainty: she gives due weight to the line “why all the souls that were were forfeit once” – which the poet Thom Gunn said contained a whole world of invention – and literally comes to blows with her brother, Claudio, when he argues that she should sacrifice her chastity to save his life.

Kurt Egyiawan plays Angelo as a young man shocked into awareness of his dormant sensuality and his attraction to a woman whose downright fervour matches his own. When these two characters are together, the play grips the imagination. I was less sure what to make of Dominic Rowan as the Duke who, disguised as a friar, stage-manages much of the action. The key to his performance seems to be that the Duke is less a surrogate divinity than a frantic improviser and Rowan brings out well the hypocrisy of a man who one minute condemns a bawd and the next arranges a bed-trick in which Mariana will take the place of Isabella.

Fervour… Mariah Gale as Isabella and Kurt Egyiawan as Angel in Measure for Measure. Fervour… Mariah Gale as Isabella and Kurt Egyiawan as Angel in Measure for Measure. Photograph: Nigel Norrington

But the idea of the Duke as a dodgy fixer doesn’t square with the man who sagely philosophises about death and talks about bearing “the sword of heaven”. The production also leaves open the question of whether his proposal to Isabella, which she greets with head in hands, is another spur-of-the-moment decision or part of a long-range plan.

If the Duke is equivocal, the production is decidedly clear about the contest between the law and unchecked liberty. We see mini-brothels being dismantled and prostitutes savagely branded. The production goes over the top in the scene where Mistress Overdone, played by Spymonkey’s Petra Massey, and her gang are hauled up in court: it’s hard to believe the authorities would have stood by while they engage in acrobatic antics suggesting a genitally obsessed Three Stooges.

But, even if it is sometimes guilty of excess, Dromgoole’s buoyant production anchors the play in a specific world and leaves you pondering the eternal conflict between implacable justice and enlightened mercy.

At Shakespeare’s Globe until 17 October. Box office: 020-7401 9919

  
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