How did the Hild Bede Freshers’ play measure up?
Hild Bede Theatre’s challenging vision of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure was always going to be an ambitious endeavour. With the director’s note stating that “Shakespeare can be tedious”, resulting in “a series of blasphemous cuts and changes”, it was unlikely to be the pedant’s dream performance. However, at times, it proved to be a refreshing and, often, vibrant interpretation of the bard’s great morality play.
From the very beginning, the audience was invited to gaze upon a seedy and depraved world; drinks were offered by girls with ominous intent, whilst a silhouette danced on the screen, centre stage. Perhaps the opening promised too much; as the play progressed it became harder for the audience to marry the more traditional acting and script with the lascivious atmosphere which seemed to belong to a more modern vision of the world. A particularly baffling example of this was the monologue in which a joke was made regarding the college principal’s very own measuring stick which seemed to revel more in the fact that it was ‘daringly’ lewd rather than in any linguistic and dramatic value. Although the additional lines often added a piquant touch of humour, at times, such interspersions detracted from the continuum of the play, leaving the audience with a strange sense of discordance.
On the whole, though, the slapstick humour worked. It would have been very easy for it to simply take a turn for the bawdy worst, but there were scenes in which the comedy was poised to alleviate the tension of the more serious moments. An example of this was Angelo’s and Mariana’s sex scene in which Rosie Minikin and Owen Shipton gave, quite literally, an exuberant and energetic performance. Concealed behind a screen, the silhouettes were one of the moments in the reworking of the play that demonstrated a sharp and effective innovation. Moreover, the cast sustained a spirited performance throughout; Ben Anscombe playing ‘Pompey Bum’, Tom Nash playing ‘Constable Elbow’ and Sarah Peters as Lucio were delightfully engaging, and really brought out the comedic elements of the play.
Overall, though, the play focused too heavily on its light-hearted aspects, sometimes to the detriment of its total effect. Coupled with the excessive scene changes, this served to distract the audience from the complex entanglement of meaning in Shakespeare’s original script. For example, the integrity of Kla Zychowska’s (Isabella) polished performance was partially lost in the overall haziness of the dramatic tone. However, this was a refreshing and exciting freshers’ play, clearly demonstrating the directors’ unique and enterprising vision.