‘There is so great a fever on goodness that the dissolution of it must cure it’. Well quite. Act V of Michael Attenborough’s Measure for Measure at the Almeida presents the unedifying spectacle of a ruling class so rapt in the contemplation of its own emotional angst that the state may go merrily to wrack for all that any of them cares. This is a production fascinated by the psychological dissection of individual souls, but without much concern for the real-world consequences of its protagonists’ moral and marital manoeuvres.
Shakespeare’s sleaze-infested Vienna isn’t much in evidence either, despite a promising start, with dance music thumping insistently through the walls of Duke Vincentio’s swanky office (discreetly adorned with images of impeccably classical sexual violence). Trevor Cooper’s unrepentant bruiser of a Pompey radiates enough deceptively genial crookedness to lead a whole city into sin. But his claim that the prison is full of his old punters resounds hollowly, with only a sad (short) parade of girls wrapped in blankets to testify to the success of Angelo’s hard-line ethical crusade.
Within these limits, there’s some fine and intelligent acting on display. Rory Kinnear contrives to make Angelo perversely loveable in his flustered, fumbling attempt at a seduction. Anna Maxwell Martin, by contrast, doesn’t hesitate to let us see the self-righteous fury that fuels Isabella’s principled resistance to his sexual advances. Trying to untangle the ensuing complications, Ben Miles’ Duke is a compelling (and occasionally infuriating) portrait of liberal decency bedevilled by self-doubt; a good man failing to negotiate an accommodation between other people’s destructive certainties.
Making the case for tolerance, Lloyd Hutchinson as Lucio is a smooth-talking swaggerer, unprincipled, unheroic and eminently disarming, ducking niftily round corners to elude the unwelcome attentions of the law. And David Annen’s Provost is a beacon of battered integrity – painstaking, exhausted and doggedly humane.
With a company so gifted, it’s a shame that its members never quite cohere into a united dramatic ensemble. And once we’re in among the twists and turns of one of Shakespeare’s more tortuous final acts, the drama’s main players gaze at one another like strangers. Mutely uncomprehending, mutually accusing, they’re each wrapped-up in their own private martyrdom. And the resulting stalemate denies the audience any shred of optimism or comfort.
Victoria Lloyd (Marianna), David Annen (Provost), Rory Kinnear (Angelo), Ben Miles (Vincentio) in Measure for Measure. Almeida Theatre. Photo: Keith Pattison .
Anna Maxwell Martin (Isabella) and Rory Kinnear (Angelo) in Measure for Measure. Almeida Theatre. Photo: Keith Pattison.
Ben Miles as Vincentio. Measure for Measure, Almeida Theatre. Photo: Keith Pattison.