THEATRE Measure for Measure Royal Lyceum Theatre
Wednesday 13 August 1997
Instead of bringing the world of the play to life, Braunschweig makes heavy-handed interpretative points at dictation speed. You feel like you're being coached for an examination. Turning this play into a diagram is an approach that can work well if a director has genuinely fresh insights. The schematic blocking of Declan Donnellan's recent Cheek by Jowl version - in which the stage-managing Duke manhandled the characters into tableaux of his choice as if they were shop window dummies - paid off because it brought home the disturbing ways in which he and Angelo are doppelgangers rather then opposites: both control freaks, angling to get their hands on Isabella.
By comparison, the visual underlinings of theme here are banal and simplistic. To indicate how aerially removed he affects to be from ordinary human dealings, Paul Brennen's prematurely bald, model-suited Angelo watches Escalus's tangle with Elbow, Froth and Pompey from the lofty landing of a great curving staircase. Just in case we are not clear that Angelo has problems identifying with fallen man, Braunschweig juxtaposes him at one point with a blown-up image of Masaccio's Adam and Eve being banished from Paradise. Evincing all the human suppleness of a graph or a bar-chart, the power-shifts in the great encounter between Angelo and Lise Stevenson's Isabella are plotted according to their relative positions on that overworked staircase. The stage picture is so crude you sit there half expecting that, at any moment, the steps will light up beneath their tread as in some kitschy musical.
Repeatedly, decisions are taken that weaken the drama. I liked the idea of presenting Jim Hooper's Duke as eerily veering into a private fantasy world at the end - so wrapped up in himself, and so mindless of the feelings of those he has manipulated, that he doesn't even bother to look round when he makes his insensitive romantic proposal to Isabella. But it's reductive to portray him beforehand as an archly conscious hypocrite, almost pantomimic in the way he signals the dodgyness of his designs and in the desperately imprecatory nature of his tactics. The real problem with the Duke (as, initially, with Angelo) is his dangerous capacity for self-deception, not the fact that he is a fraud.
This is the first time Braunschweig has worked with an English cast and the production feels emotionally inhibited - all demonstration and no innerness. It's typical that, when Isabella's brother is produced at the end, not dead after all, he's presented as a stark naked accusing emblem, high up in a sort of cupboard. A proper sense of the awkwardness Isabella must feel in the circumstances (having just argued mercy for Angelo on the legalistic grounds that her brother actually committed the crime for which he was executed) is destroyed by overkill. Like Braunschweig's production of The Winter's Tale, seen at the Festival three years ago, this Measure for Measure manages to be at once striking and arid.
7.30pm to 26 Aug (exc 17, 24), 2.30pm matinees Thu, Sat and Tue 26, Royal Lyceum Theatre (0131-473 2000)
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