It’s the Swinging Sixties and London is in its years of non-conformist and uncontrollable values. What was once known as Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is now a lively musical named Desperate Measures where we delve into the corruption and morals of the new government. An unlikely change for a Shakespeare, but an unexpectedly confident concept nonetheless.
Claudio now becomes Milo, a well-known pop star played by the winsome Jojo Macari, and is engaged to his fiancée Julia (Alice Jay). The couple are due to be married within the month but their plan goes awry when Prime Minister Douglas Dukes tries to get himself out of a tough decision by going on a fact-finding mission; he appoints Simon Di Angelo to act as PM during his absence. Di Angelo as both a Minister and MP tackles the government morality law and cracks down on free love and drug culture – but to what detrimental effect?
As with all good Shakespeare, the plot is masterfully created. We are quickly encapsulated in a world of religion and morals, where the good swiftly find their way to victory. This musical adaptation, however, feels long-winded and a few unessential and dreary songs greatly affect the impact of the rest of the show. Juxtaposing these, other songs are fun and well-sung, not to mention the wittiness and pun-filled script that would make Shakespeare proud.
Robin Kingsland (book and lyrics) and Chris Barton (music and lyrics) don’t make it easy for their talented cast though; the music is tough in places and often doesn’t sit comfortably in the actor’s voices; however the band, led by the incredible Jordan Li-Smith, keep up painlessly and with true style dressed in their Sixties outfits. I have mixed feelings about the cast; at some moments I was in love with each and every one of them, but predominantly there are a few stand-outs. Alice Jay and Ellie Nunn quickly take the reigns as the leading ladies, with voices that snatch up the music, but it is Angharad George-Carey multi-roling as Lady Josie Escalus and Chantille who is the star of the show. From her strong-willed, bold and astute chief advisor to the electrifying prostitute, she commands the stage and provides more than enough wit for the whole play. The men are weaker on the whole, but James Wilson as reporter Charlie Lucre and pompous MP and ensemble member Harry Al-Adwani are both definitely two to talk about. Often they do need all need a few extra notes to get the right key, however.
Barton’s direction of the show has some unusual choices but is at times too complicated for the space of the petite Jermyn Street Theatre. I often felt that the stage was cluttered and therefore ineffective, with amateur tendencies sneaking into his direction. That said, the concept is strong and despite the movement of set between each scene, the production feels slick and professional, making use of all the space they can.
This young cast takes to the stage in an era unbeknown to them and just about manages to keep up with the vibrant band. They are talented but this musical on the whole needs work; it could be something great but it didn’t take long for me to be bored. There is wit, imagination and attack, so there is potential to make some edits and mould it into something special.
Desperate Measures is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 20 December. For more information and tickets, see the Jermyn Street Theatre website.