The Rose Theatre’s performance space is an intimate balcony that looks out over the archaeological remains of the original Rose, home of many of Shakespeare and Marlowe’s plays back in the sixteenth century. The Owle Schreame theatre company played Measure For Measure with an engaging and rambunctious amount of fun, keeping in original Shakespearian details such as the actors taking applause with a jig at the end of the performance (but without insisting on an all-male cast). The actors used the minimal performance space to their advantage by weaving in and out of the rows of seats, placing the ducal throne in the back row amongst the punters and using unwitting audience members as stagehands, and even occasionally as mute extras to bounce off in a soliloquy. The dimly lit cavernous space of the original Rose Theatre provided an atmospheric backdrop to the action, magnifying giggles and creating eerie echoes.
A lack of set and very minimal props meant that the actors had to provide all the entertainment, and this they certainly did, playing up the comedy and adding a few modern comic touches of their own to this reduced version of the play. However, they did not neglect the more disturbing elements of Shakespeare’s controversial comedy. Angelo’s hypocrisy was excellently played by Dan Van Garrett, whose piercing eyes and frantic-but-disguised-as-jaunty pacing turned very nasty indeed in the scene where he attempts to rape Isabella. Isabella, played by Suzanne Marie, is as earnest and pure as she needs to be to convince to audience of her argument against sacrificing her body for her brother’s life without losing the audience’s sympathy (which is a difficult task in this play where corruption and lust rule, and probably gains most of the audience’s sympathy and laughs). The attempted rape scene was truly frightening and was very effective against the bawdy light-heartedness of the rest of the play – provided mainly by Pompey (Jeremy Smith)with his cheeky rouged face, Mistress Overdone (Elizabeth Bloom) and Lucio (Thomas Vilorio) whose characters provided a bridge between the audience and the action as they sat on laps, hid behind the audience’s seats or sat amongst us to commentate.
Director Brice Stratford also made a powerful presence in the piece as Vincentio, the undercover duke, and was just as commanding with the audience as you imagine he might have been with his cast, doubling this role by performing the character who shapes and directs the action within the play.
The Owle Schreame’s version of Measure For Measure worked exceptionally well to warm up a cold centuries-old theatre space with authentic details, modern touches and a great rapport with the audience.