Shot Behind The Theatre

A whimsical and readable blog

“Measure for Measure” and what we can learn from it.

Poster for “Measure for Measure” Click for a link to the “Honest Fishmongers” website

Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you Pacific Theatre. Thank you Honest Fishmongers. “Honest” is what this production was. Honest about what theatre can do, should be and thrives on in an age where people who go to a theatre for the first time get confused when they don’t see a “screen.”

There’s so much to say about Pacific Theatre’s and the Honest Fishmongers’ production of “Measure for Measure”. Let’s start with something I cannot ever emphasis enough when I’m directing or dramaturging a play, the audience.

In HF’s last production, King Lear, during the pre-show the costumed actors casually mingled with the audience as they entered the space. They did the same for Measure for Measure, a concept I have only ever seen done in “The Strange Case of Prudencia Hart”, another show I wrote on a while ago. Where typically an audience wanders into a space void of bodies, knowing actors are back stage “getting into character”, the concept of letting your actors, not as characters, interact with the audience, gives a sense of community to everyone and actually lends an appreciation for the craft of acting on the part of the audience. We see the actors go from actor to character. There was no tedious or boring preface warning us that we’d best behave ourselves regarding cellphones and boring us with sponsor names. Instead, there was a hilarious and playful sonnet-like speech containing several famous lines from Shakespeare that included the usual cellphone, bathroom, intermission and exit information so otherwise dryly conveyed. It captured and maintained a sense of “show” and didn’t make the audience turn “on” (or sometimes “off”) their awareness for the show. We are not television audiences that can go ignored. We are live bodies and faces that should be interacted with from the minute we step into the room and the production pulled it off beautifully and cleverly.

The set design was simple–plywood and cardboard (I love simplicity). The costumes were period-ish, Elizabethan enough that my eyes could dine on the frills, colours and flows, but not overly authentic as to question the absence of other historicisms. The mixed music of British-classical with modern mixing was brilliant, representing the modern and classic cooking and chemistry of old text and new interpretation.

The lighting of the show threw me off at first. I was simply not sure what was happening with the lights going dim to bright and the actors carrying around candles. Whenever a candle would go out, an actor would swap a replacement so it actually gave a lovely sense of flow and enabled a lot of comedic playing. My interpretation of the light/dim dichotomy was its reflection of the subterfuge aspects of the action at hand and the more wholesome, honest sides of the characters. It also communicated a great duality of night and day without the stereotypical blue lights we so often see.

I have a hard time praising individual actors because such statements are overly subjective and reflect ONE night out of many (to those of you who don’t know, actors have completely different shows night-to-night in live theatre). The entire cast was physically witty with the sexisms that Shakespeare no doubt intended for his baser audiences, but also completely in-tune with the moral, philosophical and theological concepts so dashingly argued between Isabella and Angelo and the others. The Duke’s lethal and horrible love of theatrics was deliciously morally ambiguous that was captivating until the last single line he uttered with the charm only a snake could resist. Aside from Isabella making a clear “yes” decision at the end of the play (which is not specified in the text), the loyalty to Shakespeare play through this adaptation was marvellous and should be the envy of all Shakespearian revivals.

It was a great show. It was a pinnacle to why we should turn off netflicks, youtube and minecraft and go see live theatre. Pacific Theatre and the Honest Fishmongers should know that its shows like this that make theatre relevant, alive and worth our money to go and see.

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