Review: Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure
Keble O’Reilly,
19th-22nd May, 7.30pm
Verdict: as you’ll like it

Matthew Monaghan’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure begins with music – Verdi to go with his Italian setting, and Paolo Conte for the atmosphere of a brothel. The cast listens, and then two actresses appear to be in perfect harmony with the music as one rapes the other. It is an impressive, terrifying scene, and it is far from the only gripping thing about this production. Cherwell only saw a limited number of scenes, because two important actresses were ill. To compensate, we spoke with the director. That, but most of all what was on show, promised a stunning production.

This is immediately apparent in the acting. All the characters are played brilliantly and forcefully. Some did not yet know their lines, and still were utterly convincing. No one stood out disproportionally, but you are certain to be struck by the portrayal of the stoic, yet cruel Angelo – cast, like all male characters, as a woman. He (she?) is haunting, muscular and imperious. Monaghan’s choice of a cast of women is interesting, in a play he says is about ‘rape, oppression, and sexual hypocrisy’. Is having such a cast feminist, or is it the opposite – a lad’s dream? I think this production invites us to reflect upon that question. But if we are meant to wonder whether a woman can be convincingly brutal, even misogynistic, then the portrayal of Angelo does give an answer: Yes of course.
There are lighter moments too. Mistress Overdone, a prostitute running a brothel, is played by the only man in the cast, adding high heels to the confusion.

And there’s more. Measure for Measure is set in fascist 1940’s Venice, further pressing the struggle between authority and resistance. Monaghan has changed the script to bring out the violence and ambiguity of the play. He makes Shakespeare’s text sufficiently ‘new’, and the production certainly carries a lot of weight. There is no doubt that you will be genuinely touched by Measure for Measure – and that is rare. But will it perhaps be too much? Too many good ideas on the whole, and too much force in each scene? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly going to find out. So should you.