BWW REVIEW: Contemporary Take On Shakespeare's MEASURE FOR MEASURE Misses Its Opportunity To Make A Mark
Saturday 9th December 2017, 7:30pm Bella Vista Farm
Sport For Jove starts it's Sydney Hills Shakespeare In The Park season with a modern interpretation of MEASURE FOR MEASURE with an interpretation that fails to deliver a definitive discussion on weighty issues. Whilst Director Lizzie Schebesta's intention appears good in the advertising blurb, when combined with the challenges of an outdoor staging, this production needs more work to hit the promised points.
The 400 year old work is tricky at the best of times as evidenced by the frequency, or lack thereof, of its staging. For this interpretation, Schebesta draws it into a world partway between a contemporary militia ruled city and medieval world where monks and nuns are the bastion of society. The advertising material suggests that she has drawn on popular culture to create an amalgam of Orange Is The New Black and A Handmaid's Tale but this expression just turns out muddled.
Schebesta has changed Claudio into Claudia (Janine Watson) and made the relationship a lesbian love affair that has Claudia branded a 'fornicator', focussing on the sex out of wedlock, but overlooking any opinion on the union of two women which one would expect to be more shocking to the depicted society. With the move to have the convicted all be female, and therefore shifting the setting to a women's prison where all are fitted with red overalls and the violence and bargaining directed at Claudia's sister Isabella (Claudia Ware), this work is heavy on the power of men in its society but as it plays out in the last act, light on the justice returned. Whilst Angelo (Gabriel Fancourt) took on his temporary appointment with a power-hungry relish and tried to force himself on Isabella, eventually bribing her with the promise of her sisters release, he is never fully punished for his crime, instead being allowed to live. His 'punishment' is that he is required to wed the woman he'd skipped out on, Mariana (Adel Querol), which whilst he may not have wanted marriage, is still a better option than the death sentence issued to Claudia for a consensual act. Similarly, Juliet (Meg Clarke) is imprisoned for selling her body but the father of her child's punishment is marriage not prison.
In addition to the weak conclusions and underutilised story lines like Claudia's lesbian lover, apparently added to make the work seem contemporary and cutting edge, the production also suffers in the outdoor staging. With directorial choices that include lines delivered with backs to the audience and an odd blend of amplification and acoustic expression in the last act, it is difficult to hear the work over the birds, bats and farm animals, even when lines are delivered direct to the audience. Admittedly the BWW Reviewer was seated on the bleachers at the rear of the gathering but the pre-positioning of the seating should mean that the performance should still be appreciated at the not too distant distance. The narrow staging and broad, shallow audience space also resulted in anyone to stage left missing the delivery from the balcony of the historic Bella Vista Farmhouse. At first glance Sallyanne Facer's design of mobile screens and simple furniture seems clean and flexible, there are somewhat length transitions, all covered by amplified pop music which proves jarring and drags out the work longer than necessary. The costuming split across two worlds fails to give the work a real setting with an unexplained contrast between contemporary and conservative.
Whilst the intent seemed intriguing, this reinterpretation of MEASURE FOR MEASURE has unfortunately fallen short of its target. Hopefully the second show in Sport For Jove's outdoor season will be closer to what we have come to expect from the company that seeks to make classic works accessible to new audiences.
Bella Vista Farm Park, Baulkham Hills
Dec 8th, 9th, 19th, 20th, 22nd, 27th, 29th and Dec 30th (@7.30pm)Everglades Garden, Leura
Jan 14th, 20th, 21st, 28th (@7.30pm); Jan 27th (@3.30pm)
Photos: Kate Williams