Measure for Measure, presented by the
Globe Theatre Company at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 26 October
- 6 November 2005.
North Dakota State University
M. G. Aune,
North Dakota State University
Caton, Kristina, and M. G. Aune.
"Review of Measure for Measure, presented by the Globe Theatre
Company at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 26 October - 6 November
2005." Early Modern Literary Studies 11.3 (January, 2006): 18.1-9
Master of Play: John Dove. Master of Clothings, Properties,
and Hangings: Jennifer Tiramani. Master of Theatre Music: Claire van Kampen.
Master of Dance: Siân Williams. Master of Historical Music, Research,
and Arrangements: Keith McGowan. Master of Light: Stan Pressner. Master
of Words: Giles Block. Master of Movement: Glynn MacDonald. Master of Voice:
Stewart Pearce. With Mark Rylance (Duke Vincentio), Liam Brennan (Angelo),
Bill Stewart (Escalus), David Sturzaker (Claudio), Colin Hurley (Lucio),
Terry McGinity (Provost), Roger Watkins (Friar Thomas, Elbow), Thomas Padden
(Friar Peter, Second Gentleman), Peter Shorey (Justice, Mistress Overdone),
Roger McKern (Froth, First Gentleman, Barnadine), John Dougall (Pompey),
Roger Watkins (Abhorson), David Hartley (Varrius, Juliet), Edward Hogg (Isabella),
Michael Brown (Mariana, Francisca).
Most accounts agree that one of the more successful aspects
of the performances at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London has been
the greater interaction between audience and actor, largely the result of
daytime, outdoor performances. Of course the reconstructed space was intended
for use by a similarly reconstructed, or "original practices,"
company, so the success is not entirely surprising. The question then arises
as regards the company on tour: how successful will performances be in more
traditional, indoor theatres?
In autumn 2005, the Globe Company answered this question,
bringing Measure for Measure to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis
before moving on to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York.
The playing area at the Guthrie, a thrust stage, was covered with light
wood panelling and had a backdrop of similar wood with two curtained entrances.
Eight iron candelabra hung from the ceiling and one stood on the floor between
the two entrances. Tables, benches, and chairs were brought on and removed
as needed. The costumes were elaborate, and unlike in the Globe productions
the cast was dressed and made up on stage with the house lights up. Several
actors, notably Peter Shorey (Mistress Overdone), made use of this pre-performance
time to flirt and joke with the audience. In another departure from the
Globe production, Isabella, Mariana, and Juliet were played by men rather
than women. Aside from the casting and dressing, the most significant departure
from the London production was the use of house lights for the entire performance.
Presumably attempting to mimic daylight performances, the illumination allowed
regular interaction between actors and audience and enabled the cast to
create and maintain a casual, participatory mood for the entire performance.
The company used this approach to set off the morality
play aspects of Measure for Measure, alternating between loose comedy
and restrained gravity. Mark Rylance's Duke provided the axis, creating
the impression of a resplendent and serious yet nebbishy and mordant ruler
who could not wait to escape his responsibilities. Shorey, John Dougall
as Pompey, and Colin Hurley as Lucio all followed Rylance's lead, finding
the humour embedded in their lines and never passing up the chance to make
another character or the audience the straight man to their comedian. The
serious centre of play remained, however, occupied by Angelo and Isabella.
Dressed in sombre puritan black complete with skullcap, voice contained,
movements precise and restricted, Liam Brennan's Angelo contrasted starkly
with Rylance's golden Duke. Brennan was also distinct from his fellow advisor,
Bill Stewart's Escalus, the black of whose costume was contrasted by a silver
pattern (emphasizing his white hair) and white lace at the collar and cuffs.
Stewart's movements also seemed to mirror the Duke's: quick and a little
spastic, scurrying about the stage with loyal energy. Brennan, by contrast,
stood out through his use of his hands and voice. He used his long, elegant
fingers, white against the black tunic, to betray a sensuality of which
Angelo was obviously unaware. By means of a distinct Scottish burr and a
slower delivery, Brennan made Angelo audibly different from all around him.
Standing quietly, even a little bewilderedly, centre stage, watching as
the Duke breathlessly announced his intentions; Angelo did not yet know
that he was to be the villain of the play.
Angelo's next appearance revealed that he had full authority
as the Duke's substitute, with Brennan again dressed predominantly in black
but with an added cape, cuffs and lace. The skullcap was exchanged for a
black wide-brimmed hat that accentuated Brennan's height. Given the marked
change in dress, the choice of retaining Angelo's prayer book in place of
the Duke's staff of office was significant. This prayer book was never far
from Angelo's hand, and was seemingly of more interest to him than Elbow's
long explanations and excuses. Carefully anchored to the desk, the prayer
book, and the law, Angelo appeared to identify those around him, as well
as himself, not as human beings, but as products of some sort of righteous
survival of the fittest. Rarely taking the time to look at the other characters,
Angelo was busy in his own corner of the stage with the proper work of a
righteous survivor: ensuring the endurance of other righteous survivors.
He engaged the trio of Froth, Elbow, and Pompey from the side of the stage,
verbally and physically removing himself from the necessity of acknowledging
their intrusion into his world. This was where he was accustomed to standing
and sitting, fixed to the desk, and this was where he first encountered
Clearly upper class and dressed in severe alternating
black and white, Edward Hogg's Isabella did not look like a novice. Hogg,
tall with dark hair and fair skin, moved with his elbows rigidly pinioned
to his side and attracted the audience's attention, like Brennan, with his
very white hands. Relentlessly gripped together in front of a black bodice
that enhanced their visibility, they revealed Isabella's nervous energy
and a repressed sensuality. While Brennan's hands were remarkable in their
gracefulness, Hogg's were imprisoned within each other, functioning both
as a restraint for Isabella and as a barrier against everyone else. Demonstrating
her reluctance to enter the world of men even to plead for her brother's
life, Hogg's Isabella spoke with deliberately softened tones, clipping the
consonants at the end of phrases. The actor's voice sounded unused and chalky,
as if Isabella had become so comfortable with the silence of the nunnery
that to speak was difficult and unnatural. Lucio's admonishment, "You
are too cold" (II.ii.56), was appropriate not only because it conveyed
the need to press Claudio's cause but because Hogg's voice, carefully kept
within a female range, lacked the nuance and colour that would have made
audible the sensations, the action, and the contradictions his hands implied.
This difference between Brennan's natural voice with its smooth articulation
and Hogg's strained voice distracted from Angelo's aside: "She speaks,
and 'tis/Such sense that my sense breeds with it" (II.ii.142-43).
Brennan's reverie-like epiphany of temptation and then
enlightenment after Hogg's exit at the end of II.ii underscored Angelo's
slow recognition that he was about to fall. Sitting silently on a bench
at the corner of the stage with prayer book in hand throughout the next
scene, Brennan constantly reminded the audience of the precarious state
of Angelo's virtue.
Abandoning the prayer book (along with his scruples) on
the bench left Brennan's hands free for the next scene. Isabella, with hands
again tightly clasped before, eagerly approached Angelo to plead for Claudio.
Brennan drew her close but because of the actors' positions, about a third
of the audience was unable to see Brennan's face as his hands were taken
by Hogg. Brennan's expression as he looked at their hands framed by the
blackness of his tunic intensified the touch's effect. Moreover, the tension
created by this and by Brennan's brief declaration of love was squandered
by the subsequent assault. Seizing from behind and then kissing the imprisoned
Isabella, Brennan grabbed Hogg's leg in what seemed to be an attempt to
reach under Isabella's dress. The clumsy acting created a near-comic tussle
as the two off-balance actors, each hopping on one foot, attempted to keep
their balance. This elicited a small wave of nervous laughter from the audience,
unsure if they should be laughing at the two until-now non-comic characters.
The scene up to this point had been performed in the foremost part of the
stage, very close to much of the audience. By the time the kiss was over
and the two had resumed their dialogue (and balance), they were in the back
third of the stage. Consequently, the rest of their confrontation became
anti-climatic, and the distance between them and the audience swallowed
Angelo's last line, "As for you,/ Say what you can: my false o'erweighs
your true" (II.iv.169-79). This shifting of action and conflict away
from the audience dissipated the tension built up by Brennan's actions and
Hogg's reactions. Hogg then moved to centre stage, occupying the spot abandoned
by Brennan for the final lines of the scene: the only lines Hogg delivered
while alone onstage.
Brennan and Hogg's stumble and the audience's nervous
laughter were the only moments in the production that escaped the Globe
Company's control. But even so, they did not seem entirely out of place
in a production that moved from the comic to the grave and back again with
surprising ease. The final effect was less of a moral lesson than conventional
productions of Measure for Measure, but as theatre it was an outstanding
experience. Using techniques from the Globe as well as those adopted for
the local space, the actors managed to build the sense of engagement with
the audience that the best performances at the Globe create. Through the
on-stage dressing, the spare stage, and the illumination of the house lights,
the cast exposed themselves and their craft to the audience's scrutiny,
opening the play and making it accessible. A technique used at the Globe,
dancing between acts and at the play's end, enhanced the accessibility,
motivating the audience to clap along at the end.
Though marred by occasional glitches, the Globe Theatre's
touring company managed to adapt to the confines of an unfamiliar theatre
to stage a remarkably effective and accessible Measure for Measure.