Never again shall I feel I have missed out in life by not visiting the fetish club Torture Garden. In Roxana Silbert's RSC Measure For Measure
all of Vienna is a dungeon, in the penile rather than the penal sense.
The stage is well hung with curtains of rope, or whiplashes, or lengths
of rubber hose... kinky, anyway; supernumeraries stand in corners
wearing on their heads what appear to be spiked lampshades (Philippe
Starck gimp masks, perhaps?); Lucio breaks off his first line to remove
his nipple clamps; even the Duke wears a black leather corset (evoking
memories of Sergeant Wilson in Dad's Army
protesting, "It's a gentleman's abdominal support!"). It makes the RSC's recent Marat/Sade
look like a Ray Cooney farce.
Marneur's design strikes that characteristically English note that
combines prurience and decorum, a desire to look shocking but not
actually to shock. I hope this is intentional, meant to suggest a
connection between this fictional Vienna and our own contradictions of
puritanism and negligence in sexual law. For when Angelo, the Duke's
deputy, offers to remit the death sentence upon Isabella's brother
Claudio (for getting his fiancée with child) in return for her sexual
favours, he displays precisely the kind of sexual hypocrisy which
informs so much of our culture.
Ballard's Angelo is bewildered and shocked by his sudden desire for
Isabella; his schemes gather a momentum of their own rather than
resulting from a deliberate change of moral tack. As the novice nun
Isabella, Jodie McNee is impassioned (and Liverpudlian) but lacks much
of either the religious or sexual magnetism required; Mark Quartley as
her brother is more powerfully fervent when he pleads with her to grant
him his life. Paul Chahidi brings his fine comic abilities to bear as
the raffish Lucio, but adds a vein of genuine solicitude for Isabella.
Raymond Coulthard does a number of minor conjuring tricks as the Duke,
underlining the sleight-of-reasoning that fuels both that character's
plans to resolve matters and Shakespeare's script itself.
I remain unconvinced how many of these impressions and allusions are
deliberate; the suspicion lingers that the production may simply be
modish, and finds itself unintentionally more eloquent than it
deserves. This is a show that may not know its own safeword.Written for the Financial