Measure for Measure, Young Vic, London, review: A boldly funny take on Shakespeare's masterpiece

Interpretation of the Bard's self-thwarting problem comedy revs into a kind of an elating parody

Paul Taylor
Monday 12 October 2015 14:57
Paul Ready and Romola Garai performing in Measure for Measure at the Young VIc
Paul Ready and Romola Garai performing in Measure for Measure at the Young VIc

Joe Hill-Gibbins's modern dress production – the most scabrously funny take I've yet seen on Shakespeare's profound and notoriously self-thwarting problem comedy – begins with a sordid yet oddly buoyant vision of the citizens of Vienna writhing in a mass orgy. They burrow out from beneath a huge heap of inflatable plastic sex dolls whose appendages and orifices manage to be both graphic and absurd. Jittery with drugs, Zubin Varla's excellent neurotically driven Duke emerges from this throwabout cairn of crudity and proceeds to go on sabbattical, leaving the intractable task of tightening the city's laws against licentiousness to his deputy Angelo whose priggish preciousness and hypocrisy are transmitted with high-definition power by Paul Ready.

He's an odd self-defeating choice since the Duke soon returns undercover, disguised as a friar, to monitor the deputy's suspected covert sexual corruption. Romola Garai is in wonderfully impassioned form as Isabella, the novitiate nun who resists this whited selpuchre's attempts to make her virginity the price of pardoning her condemned brother. The production is awash with pulsing music, contradictory Christian/trash erotic imagery and intrusive close-ups on live video-feed of the sometimes hilariously played sex-industry low-lifes. In a cut text and at ninety unbroken minutes, it revs into a kind of an elating parody of the idea the Duke as an in-control Divine Providence. By some measure, the boldest of the year's three takes on this masterpiece.

To 14 Nov: 020 7922 2922

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