When I started this blog in 2006, my first attempt at a theatre review was a production of Measure for Measure. Four years on and here we are again - the third production I've seen in total, and having also studied the play at University it's one I'm pretty familiar with. Of all the Problem Plays this seems to be the most popular, which is odd because it's the most problematic - what with the moral issues, the twisted ending and enough misogyny to give The Taming of the Shrew a run for its money. Where some productions seem to relish the challenge, Michael Attenborough's at the Almeida gets bogged down in these problems and even manages to create a few of its own.
All eyes here are on Rory Kinnear's Angelo: With his Hamlet due in a few months' time, this is widely being regarded as his warmup for the role. You can certainly see hints of what his Hamlet might be like in this unusually sympathetic Angelo, who genuinely seems to be tormented by his unexpected attraction to Isabella, and the extent to which he's willing to abuse his power. This does jar a bit though with the later revelation that he's got a history of mistreating women. He's impressive as ever though, as is Anna Maxwell Martin as a very frosty Isabella. The central trio is rounded out by Ben Miles, bringing out the moral cowardice of the disguised Duke. Most of the performances are good in fact (Lloyd Hutchinson's Lucio occasionally brings the play to life) although I was unimpressed by Emun Elliott, whose verse-speaking as Claudio was poor; I know he's meant to be angry but barking his entire first scene in a monotone means a crucial bit of exposition is completely incomprehensible.
Lez Brotherston's designs are a mix of modern-dress and Renaissance, the stage dominated by two small revolves, which are impressive at first. But once the novelty's worn off it becomes apparent that there's not much else giving visual life to what is a pretty static production that seems to consist of scene after scene of people sitting at tables talking. At the end, Attenborough chooses a different interpretation than most directors for how Isabella's story pans out (partly a consequence of choosing to play the Duke as quite weak-willed) which at first seems interesting but starts to look more and more like a cop-out. It's funny, although it was four years ago and I can't remember details, I do remember that the production I reviewed back then was notable for its energy; in contrast, this is a Measure for Measure that just feels tired.
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare is booking until the 10th of April at the Almeida.