Measure for Measure 1994

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The impact of Declan Donnellan's powerful, intelligent production... was nothing short of cataclysmicThe Observer
Cheek by Jowl has always been run with an exemplary humanity and here it spills onto the stage and passionately engages with the forces of punishment and sexual hypocrisyTime Out

World premiere 16 February 1994 Arts Centre, Coventry
London run from 14 June 1994 for 34 performances, Lyric Hammersmith

Produced by Cheek by Jowl

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive
Cast

Cast in order of speaking

Stephen BoxerThe Duke
Charles SimonEscalus
Adam KotzAngelo
Peter NeedhamFriar Peter / Pompey
Mark BazeleyLucio
Benjamin SoamesGentleman / Froth
Simon WalterGentleman / Abhorson
Marianne Jean-BaptisteMistress Overdone / Mariana
John GriffinProvost
Danny SapaniClaudio
Sheri GraubertJuliet / Francisca
Anastasia HilleIsabella
Malcolm ScatesElbow / Bernadine

Creatives
DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
LightingJudith Greenwood
MovementJane Gibson
MusicPaddy Cunneen

1994

It was only a few months ago that Theatre Complicite rode into town and proved themselves to be a company at the height of their powers. Now their 80s contemporary is performing the same feat with one the most exciting and heartfelt productions of Shakespeare's difficult play that I have ever seen.

All the familiar hallmarks of Cheek by Jowl are in evidence: blazing performances from actors who sound as though they are speaking the words for the very first time; a reckless determination to confront the play's challenges head on; and a simple and eloquent design from Nick Ormerod. Here a plain red banner is all that is needed to suggest the fascist presence in the 30s when Declan Donnellan's production is loosely set. The crucial performance is that of Anastasia Hille's Isabella who stuttering inarticulacy is merely a mask for a raging anger and fear of her own sexuality; it's a long journey she has to make from the strung out, rheumy young girl who first goes to see Angelo to the woman who finally pleads for his life and is rewarded by being summarily paired off with the Duke. She and Adam Kotz's youthful, unstable Angelo speak with the same repressed language. But when out of naivety she places her head beseechingly on Angelo's bosom she awakens in him a desire the she could never have anticipated.

Outside on the streets, British bobbies confront the lowlife of Vienna to the accompaniment of Paddy Cunneen's smoochy music. The fact that Mariana only agrees to take Isabella's place because she's just drunk a bottle of whiskey is just one reason why Stephen Boxer's manipulative Duke arouses even more mixed feelings than usual. Cheek by Jowl has always been run with an exemplary humanity and here it spills onto the stage and passionately engages with the forces of punishment and sexual hypocrisy. The result is devastating. Jane Edwardes, Time Out. 22 June 1994
Forget Vienna. Declan Donnellan's brilliant Cheek by Jowl production of Measure for Measure at the Lyric Hammersmith anchors the play in a specifically English world of sexual guilt, public hypocrisy and punishment -- fixation. I would seriously suggest that complimentary tickets be issued to members of the present Cabinet for any night of their choice.

Far from narrowing the play down, Donnellan opens it up and his greatest insight is to realise that the Duke and Angelo, far from being temperamental opposites are two sides of the same puritan coin. Stephen Boxer plays the former superbly as an upright and moral coward who having presided over 14 years of misrule, leaves it to his deputy to sort out the resulting chaos.

I've also never seen the point so clearly made that the Duke is Angelo's double in his furtive attraction to Isabella who represents the sexual temptations of corrective chastity. And in the last act, Boxer, in jaunty titfer and camel coat, seems less God's agent than a power-mad fixer pairing off disastrously ill-suited couples in the name of justice and social conformity.

But Donnellan pursues his central idea that politicians who seek to legislate for private morality expose their own internal hypocrisy with rigorous logic. Adam Kotz's Angelo is a sober suited figure both fascinated and appalled by the itch lurking inside his trousers. And Anastasia Hille plays Isabella marvellously, not as frigid noviciate but as a passionate woman who nestles in Angelo's arms and who subconsciously equates punishment and sex. The key to this Isabella is not the notorious "more than our brother is our chastity" but the lines where she claims that were she under sentence of death, "Th'impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies."

Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod also create a totally plausible work on stage, one dominated by a central desk, steel chair and an overhanging working light. Only the suspended, implicitly fascist red banner strikes me as gratuitous. But the stage picture is constantly striking so that we are reminded throughout of the imprisoned presence of the doomed Claudio (Danny Sapani) who has to battle against his sister's voluble prayers to plead for his life. There is, in fact, a score of inventive touches, from Malcolm Scates' Elbow misreading his notebook when giving court evidence to an impromptu shriek of "What?" from Marianne Jean-Baptiste's bluesy Mariana when the bed trick is proposed. Veteran Charles Simon who performed with Frank Benson, intriguingly makes Escalus both a figure of unregenerate humanism and a chain smoker, clearly some liberties survive even in the world of puritan hypocrisy that Donnellan, staying true to Shakespeare, has so breathtakingly evoked. Michael Billington, The Guardian. 20 June 1994
Shakespeare was more justly celebrated in our own Cheek by Jowl's full text, modern dress version of Measure for Measure which began its long foreign and British tour on the Perth campus in the Octagon, a fine thrust stage venue designed by Tyrone Guthrie at Professor Alexander's invitation just as the city fathers were demolishing the capitol.

The impact of Declan Donnellan's powerful, intelligent production in a city (and a country) where the play is virtually unknown was nothing short of cataclysmic. Adam Kotz's fresh faced, tight-lipped Angelo, the political deputy whose moral purge back fires when he gives his own sensual race the rein, looks uncannily like Peter Lilley. The strict statutes and the biting laws, "which for this 14 years we have let sleep" announce a new punitive mood with a real touch of "back to basics".

Stephen Boxer's Duke is a top dog desperate to survive by instigating his own undercover enquiry: such a performance comprehensively defies the 'problem play' tag. And Cheek's policy of casting black actors offers excellent rewards: a sturdy sullen Claudio from Danny Sapani (who pointedly turns his back on Isabella, the sister who values her chastity above his life) and a vivid double from Marianne Jean-Baptiste as a raunchy Overdone and a jazzily sweet-singing Mariana.

Anastasia Hille's forceful, agitated Isabella snivels into a handkerchief at moments of high tension and accedes to the Duke's final proposal with the weary resignation of one who has now seen how the world really works. Michael Coventry, The Observer. 13 March 1994