Sunday 19 November 2017

Theatre: A 'Measure' too far: it can't be heard

Almost total inaudibility destroys the Bard's morality comedy

Daniel McDermott as Barnardine in 'Measure for Measure'
Daniel McDermott as Barnardine in 'Measure for Measure'

Emer O'Kelly

It's difficult to believe that the new production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure in the gardens at Dublin Castle is presented by the company who achieved such a rumbustious triumph in Iveagh Gardens last year with The Taming of the Shrew.

This year's offering can only be described (sadly) as disastrous. And it's down to a single fact: you can't hear a word.

Out of a cast of 20, only one member (Wesley O'Duinn as the pimp Pompey) can be heard, with another managing to make herself audible part of the time. And given that the major joy of Shakespeare is in the text, it makes for a bummer of an evening.

Fortune's Fool director Stephanie Courtney has decided to set the play in Dublin in 1916 due to our capital's thriving red-light district of the time, which was so sanctimoniously ignored by Catholic respectability. The transposition is credible, echoing Shakespeare's exploration of the theme of hypocritical public morality set against the qualities of real virtue, so redolent of Dublin a hundred years ago, and not exactly unknown today.

Courtney has also, according to her programme notes, decided to make the villainous Angelo with his unyielding public asceticism into a de Valera-like figure (a device used much more successfully in another production of the play some years ago in the Crypt in the Castle). It's unsuccessful here because the actor playing the character no more looks like Dev than the man in the moon, and, like everyone else, can't be heard. It is also, mind you, a trifle unfair to the Long Fellow: he may have been joyless, but to the best of my knowledge he never tried to seduce or rape a novice nun, as the villainous Angelo does.

But the story of rigid laws against sexual licence being imposed to the point of execution for a young man accused of getting his beloved pregnant (they're secretly married), and his nun sister persuading another young woman to replace her in the assignation demanded by Angelo, the man who imposed the sentence, because she is not prepared to sacrifice her vow of chastity even to save her brother from the gallows, is completely lost here.

Dublin Castle's garden is admittedly large, probably 40 or 50 metres across, and I was told to sit at the perimeter, about as far from the action as it was possible to be, but the faint quacks which were all I could hear most of the time made for a very long two hours.

** We have been subsequently contacted to point out that the character of Angelo was not based on Eamon De Valera. In fact, as the director's programme notes pointed out, she based the character of the Duke on De Valera. We are happy to clarify this.

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