Measure for Measure at the Brockley Jack Theatre
While there is a consistent over-saturation of many of Shakespeare’s works – yet another Romeo and Juliet remake will be released this year ‒ it’s incredibly refreshing to see the chronically underperformed Measure for Measure reimagined by the talented cast at the Brockley Jack. Despite staging one of the generically unstable problem plays, the company handles the marriage of comedy and tragedy effortlessly.
In bringing the play into the 21st century, the bawdiness of the setting is ramped up as the audience are welcomed into the small space by gyrating girls in lingerie dancing to a thumping modern soundtrack. The pub attached to the theatre allows some noise from the Friday night revellers to bleed through, but at times this actually adds to the production, punctuating the attempts to create the brash city setting.
The seedy underworld of Vienna has exploded under the lax authority of the Duke, a troublingly complex character executed perfectly by Brian Merry. The play explores the theme of judgement and how it should be exercised, as the harsh rule of the “righteous” Angelo is inflicted in contrast on to the city’s brothels.
The leads are expertly cast, Rochelle Parry captures Isabella’s sickly-sweet sincerity while Gregory Simpson brings the necessary sinister intensity to Angelo, though his Joker-esque makeup seems to aid in this. The comic relief intended to counterbalance these solemn characters is provided with great panache by the ensemble, most notably Lucio and Pompey draw approving laughter from the audience. The tiny space is exploited faultlessly, the movement and blocking of the actors wholly in tune with the possibilities and limitations of their environment.
As it is such an overlooked play, the production has been able to approach it with completely fresh eyes. In this retelling, the wise Escalus has become Escala, complete with shoulder-padded 80s power suit. The ambiguous ending is interpreted with a modern reading and played with disconcerting intensity, rather than a traditionally comedic portrayal. This artistic decision is compounded with subtle choices to veer from the original text that have brutal implications for any comedic hopes for the play’s climax, rendering it an incredibly powerful piece of theatre.
Measure for Measure is on at The Brockley Jack Theatre until 20th July 2013. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.
Watch a rehearsal video here: