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  The Theatreguide.London Review


Measure for Measure
Lyttelton Theatre Spring 2006

This production by the group Complicite played briefly at the National Theatre last summer and now returns after a foreign tour. It is a mixed bag, with ultimately more good things about it than bad, but not by a very wide margin.

Among the weaknesses are some stylistic overlays that at best add little and at worst detract. It doesn't particularly hurt to do the play in modern dress or to have some scenes played on TV screens. A grab-bag mix of performance styles does get in the way, some scenes played in near-Brechtian mode (everyone facing front and reciting), others in high melodramatic style, with ranting, raving and gnashing of teeth.

A lot of totally gratuitous and irrelevant sight gags do produce laughs, but they're laughs that have little to do with the play. And, as pleasant as the sight is, the play doesn't really want a bare-breasted moment for the nun-to-be Isabella.

On the other hand, intelligent cutting and some overlapping of scenes keep the play moving through just over two hours without an interval, when the RSC would have taken at least an hour more.

The production is at its best when at its quietest and least gimmicky. The scene in which Isabella tells her condemned brother what the cost of his freedom will be, and then he shocks her by begging her to do it, is powerful because the actors - Naomi Frederick and Ben Meyjes - just play the honest emotions.

Similarly, the moment at the end when she must overcome her accumulated outrage to beg for Angelo's life is powerful because the play stands still for a beat to see if she'll do it.

Naomi Frederick is a strong and passionate Isabella, and not for the first time one doubts whether the Duke's last-moment proposal will be accepted. Angus Wright's Angelo is a buttoned-down afraid-of-sex technocrat whose passions run roughshod over him once they get out - in another life he might have become an ax murderer. Company director Simon McBurney doubles as the Duke without conveying any special sense of the character.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Measure for Measure - National 2006