Thursday, 30 January 2014

Measure for Measure - Pacific Theatre 2014

Go see this play, Measure for Measure is considered one of the problem plays, and it is problematic. It’s uncomfortable, nuanced, and it refuses to offer simple morality. Those elements can either be the thing that makes the play brilliant, or a muddled mess. The production by Honest Fishmongers is on the side of brilliance.  

The play from begins when the Duke decides to turn over his power to a man named Angelo and go into hiding. He leaves Angelo instructions that he is to punish citizens for fornication under laws that have been ignored during the Dukes reign.

Angelo is known for being an upright and pious man. He enacts the laws and sentences a man to death for impregnating a woman he isn't married to. The man, Claudio, sends his sister a novice who is preparing to take orders to plead with Angelo. Angelo is intrigued by her, and he lays out the ultimatum - she can sleep with him and save her brothers life.

I love director Kevin Bennett, especially for his pacing of the actors. He finds the natural speech patterns in Shakespeare, allowing his actors to run their lines over each other, the way real conversations can overlap. He also allows his actors to pause.... to draw out silences and not rush forward with the next line. It gives the show a weight - especially fitting for this play. 

There are a few clear moral choices (Angelo's behavior aside). The question for Claudio and Isabella over what sacrifices you make for someone you love has no easy answer. Honest Fishmongers production doesn't shy away from the discomfort or complexity in this show. 

They are blessed with a strong cast. Julie McIsaac, as Isabelle, has always had the ability to be strong and heartbreaking, and she puts it to good use in this role. Angelo is played by Simon Webb, who I loved as Polonius and Lear. He is willing to show Angelo at his worst, with no pretense that his demands of Isabella are anything less then vile, he is as always able to be deeply human.

The staging the focus of the play concealment. Working with both lights and hand held candles there is an emphasis on what we do when no one is looking, and how our actions change under a public gaze. While the staging is interesting and beautiful, it was also my only complaint. The change between dark and light is a little intense and hard on your eyes. Moderating the light levels would prevent this from distracting the audience and allow more attention to focus on the actors. 

Honest Fishmongers is a co-op group, so the split the profits from the show... support them, we need more shows like this.


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