Reviews: Measure for Measure at the Young Vic, London

Measured for pleasure: Shakespeare play given almost farcical whirl

By Georgina Brown for The Daily Mail, 17 October 2015

Cut to 115 breathless, trippy minutes, you might suppose that director Joe Hill-Gibbins’s revival of one of Shakespeare’s trickiest plays is a somewhat scant measure.

Admittedly, it doesn’t probe the play’s endlessly discussed ‘dark corners’, preferring instead to accelerate around them, so there’s no time to dwell.

In a striking opening scene, the stage is waist-deep in peachy, plastic, inflatable sex dolls – pneumatic fantasy females and comically excited males – out of which emerges a sweaty Duke.

It’s ridiculous rather than alarming, but a powerful image of a sordid, smut-infested, vaguely modern-day Vienna which cheerfully puts the hip into hypocrisy and treats women like playthings.

It’s not a subtle approach but it boldly and vividly cuts to the quick of a piece about the tensions between body and soul, right and wrong, sex and death, giving the play an almost farcical whirl.

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Measure for Measure review – a 21st-century vision of a medieval hell

By Susannah Clapp for The Guardian, 18 October 2015

he opening scene of Joe Hill-Gibbins’s staging of Measure for Measure is full of inflatable dolls. Whenever the Duke or Isabella or Angelo want to make speeches about being pure in a licentious world, they have to wade through tumbles of bouncy pink bodies, painted with mouths like vulvas, their arms upstretched like rampant cocks. Miriam Buether’s design looks grotesque but jaunty. It is actually a 21st-century version of a medieval hell.

This is Hill-Gibbins’s skill. The text is cut; the action moves fast, with swaggering gangsters and comic zest. Yet the centre is unshiftingly dark. Measure for Measurehas some of Shakespeare’s most reverberating speeches – “Ay, but to die, and go we know not where”. It is turning from a “problem” to a popular play: the Young Vic’s is the third production this year. Yet it’s elusive, slippery. Vienna is corrupt – and bubbling with prurience. Is the Duke who patrols the city in disguise a righteous leader or a manipulative scoundrel? Is Angelo, the supposed guardian of morality, really a fallen angel or was he always a crook? How much is it possible to sympathise with the principled Isabella, who refuses to give up her chastity to save her brother?

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