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The Theatreguide.London Review

Measure For Measure
Shakespeare's Globe   Winter 2021-2022

Measure for Measure can seem like a remarkably topical play with its depiction of the sexual abuse of women and the oppressive misuse of State power.

The production directed by Blanche McIntyre for the Sam Wanamaker Theatre doesn't lose sight of these things, but it also tilts the play towards broad comedy.

At times you feel the context is not so much the advertised 1970s in general but rather the raucous extremes of such television as the Benny Hill show.

A policeman chases Pompey (Eloise Secker) around the stage waving a dildo, the executioner drags a huge axe that gets trapped by any object in its path, Elbow (Daniel Miller) the constable carries a battery-powered megaphone that seems to have a life of its own and the drunk Barnardine (Ishia Bennison) refusing to be executed gets applause and laughter.

It's as if the director cannot trust audiences to be interested in the social implications of the scenes and so tries to distract them with slapstick knockabout fun.

Even the main characters give the audience things to laugh at. That includes a scene in which Judge Angelo tries to coerce Isabella into a sexual encounter and a scene where the Duke disguised as a friar tells Juliet (Eloise Secker) that her lover is to be executed.

The Duke, played in this production as a woman by Hattie Ladbury, tends to overshadow the other characters. She has none of the menace we might expect of a character who is at times cruelly manipulating others.

Instead, she initially seems quite light-headed, almost giddy when Angelo first speaks to her and a little later when she is phoning a friar.

Not only do we see no threat or danger in her behaviour as she settles into a gentle role of benevolence, but we are also given indications of her romantic interest in Isabella, an interest that the final scene suggests might be mutual.

Georgia Landers gives a clear sympathetic performance as Isabella that leaves us in no doubt she is a passionate woman abused by Judge Angelo. Ashley Zhangazha's Angelo initially seems awkward and insecure but, following the Duke’s departure, he becomes stiff, mechanical and often rushed in his speech.

There are some fine distinctive moments in this production such as the Duke’s sideways glance of insecurity at Isabella hugging Mariana (Eloise Secker) and the sudden terror when Angelo rips a candle from Isabella’s hand.

However, I couldn't help but feel that the director was shying away from the crucial themes of social injustice for something lighter, funnier and much more conservative. 

Keith McKenna

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Review of Measure For Measure  - Sam Wanamaker Theatre 2021

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