Measure for Measure, presented by the Globe Theatre Company at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 26 October - 6 November 2005.

Kristina Caton,
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 <URL:>.

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).
  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 Isabella.

  5. 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).

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).