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New version of Shakespeare play has 'Me Too' themes
With the impact of the #MeToo movement, it's no wonder that the sexual abuse of power is becoming an ever more present theme in new theatre productions.
While there's been plenty of attention around John Malkovich playing a powerful Hollywood producer accused of sexually assault in David Mamet's new play Bitter Wheat at London's Garrick Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is taking a more subtle, historic route at highlighting this issue.
RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran directs this sensitive, astute new production of Shakespeare's Measure For Measure, which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and goes on to London's Barbican along with touring regionally.
As the woman at the heart of the story cries out "but who will believe me?", you can't help but have an emotional reaction to this significant statement that gets to the crux of the matter of recent revelations.
With a striking resemblance to complaints aired in the current #MeToo movement, it's horrifyingly depressing to think that Shakespeare was writing about these same issues in 1604 and yet this behaviour has still been allowed to flourish for centuries more.
This new version features Doran's signature notes of dramatic scenery and use of music that make it visually exciting, not just for the theatre audience but when it is screened to cinemas on 31 July.
Measure For Measure translates well into the early 1900s
Cleverly set in the early 1900s in Vienna, it has repressed buttoned up officials waging a moral and legal war against debauchery, sin and prostitution after the Duke leaves town to secretly go undercover as a monk to understand what is really happening in his city.
What emerges is that the highly respected dignitary Angelo, tasked with cleaning up the city and left in charge, proves himself to be more politically and sexually corrupt as those he is punishing.
Angelo's unravelling comes after he harshly sentences young man Claudio to death for getting his fiancée pregnant before they are married as a lesson to other sinners.
But finding himself attracted to Claudio's sister Isabella, a novice nun, who is begging for her brother's life, Angelo's true nature is revealed - offering Isabella the pardon she craves if she sleeps with him.
The plot has stark similarities with current times
Playing the tortured soul of nun Isabella is excellent Lucy Phelps, who has also impressed this RSC season as Rosalind inAs You Like It. Her anxiety is clear from both her facial and body movements and the scene where Angelo makes his indecent proposal and paws her from behind is excruciatingly uncomfortable - as it should be.
She is a believable victim but there are many detailed character touches that bring this story to life and add an edge of modernity across the board.
Angelo, played menacingly by Sandy Grierson, is depicted as a man so repressed that he wears a cilice spiked chain around his thigh in Opus Dei style. While the brothel madam Mistress Overdone is transgender, in the towering form of Graeme Brookes. Then there is Overdone's pimp (David Ajao), a likeable cheeky fellow with a strong Jamaican accent and councillor Escalus and the prison keeper Provost, both changed into female parts, which work well with the authoritative, reasoned portrayals by Claire Price and Amanda Harris respectively.
Best of all is the comedy figure of Lucio, a ridiculous dandy who unwittingly winds up the Duke at every opportunity. Joseph Arkley seems to relish the role and his passion for playing this 'fantastic' (as Lucio is described in the programme) provides the much-needed light to the darkness of the rest of the plot.
Antony Byrne plays the Duke in Measure for Measure