Measure for Measure, Olivier, National Theatre, London

A triumph of sleaze and CCTV

The red-light district of Vienna is surpassingly sleazy in Simon McBurney's deeply arresting modern-dress revival of Measure for Measure, presented now in the Olivier in a co-production between the National Theatre and his own brilliant company, Theatre Complicite. At Mistress Overdone's knocking-shop, flabby, stripped-to-the-waist mid-lifers grope their groins in a bored sort of way to the porn channel that's pumping out hard-core fare on the TV monitors, while mini-skirted whores nurse the babies which the bourgeois customers have left them as little reminders of their visits.

It all looks about as aphrodisiac as a beer belly or cellulite, and it suggests that if the city authorities want to clean up this act, they would be better advised to start with the hypocrisy of the "respectable" folk who exploit the sex workers rather than the other way round. Which makes the plan of the Duke of Vienna all the more inexplicable. He takes a sabbatical, handing over power to his ice-cold deputy, Angelo. But the Duke, who returns incognito, disguised as a friar to monitor the savage reforms of his understudy, knows that there is something in Angelo's past that makes him not all that he claims to be. So what kind of game does he think he's playing?

McBurney has not directed a Shakespearean drama in over a decade. Apparently, it's his enthusiasm for the Travelex £10 season in the Olivier and for the new kinds of audience it has created that has lured him back to the Bard for this project. He offers a highly abstract staging of Measure for Measure - the characters move, sometimes in synchronised slow motion, into expressive patterns on a central stage, their encounters in what looks to be a surveillance state, flashed up as grainy CCTV footage on the screens. The proceedings often work by a principle of simultaneous action. Marooned in their separate worlds, Claudio (Ben Meyjes), the man on death row for fornication, and his pregnant girlfriend Juliet (Vinette Robinson) remain on stage in eloquent counterpoint to scenes elsewhere that are insensitively deciding their fates.

Not that there's any shortage of raw passion or rude black comedy. As the severe deputy, Angelo, Paul Rhys is extraordinarily compelling, demonstrating how closely akin are ice and fire. He plays him as pallid, quiveringly sensitive martinet whose self-chastisements (drawing blood from his arm with a razor blade) are pervertedly orgasmic. When he is alone, the honesty of his introspection is positively scorching. You can see why he's sexually aroused by Naomi Frederick's militantly virginal Isabella who says she'd rather be whipped ("the impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies") than lay down her chastity for her brother's life. He's turned on by her ferocious absolutism (he shoves her hand through his fly to feel his erection) because it is a distorted reflection of his own.

Beginning as almost absurdly portentous and concluding as chillingly so, David Troughton's Duke brings about a "happy" ending as much by intimidation as by effecting a change of heart in others. The crude, hand-to-mouth nature of his botched plot, with its absurd substitutions, is drolly satirised in slapstick execution sequences performed in silhouette. The look of horror on Angelo's face when the ruler, with more than a hint of threat in his voice, proposes marriage to Isabella, suggests that for the disgraced deputy, this blatant mismatch is the most excruciating punishment.

Significantly, the one person the Duke can't forgive is Toby Jones's very funny Lucio, a corrupt slacker who likes to pose as being in the know but whose relationship to power is compulsively that of pin to balloon.

In rep to 31 July

(020-7452 3000)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement