Thursday, 2 February 2012

Latest theatre review by Vidar Hjardeng - Measure for Measure

Review of audio described performance of RSC’s Measure for Measure at the Swan Theatre on the afternoon of Saturday 28 Jan 2012.

Measure for Measure, allegedly first performed for James I on Boxing Day 1604, is perhaps a darker play than some of the Bard’s other comedies like Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night etc. For me at least it is not as well known as some of his other work, and so it was really helpful to attend last Saturday’s RSC audio described matinee and touch tour. Set in Vienna, the story focuses on the Duke’s attempts to curb the immorality that he feels is spreading in the city. Leaving his deputy, Angelo in charge, and disguised as a monk, Duke Vincentio - brilliantly played by Raymond Coulthard, complete with magic tricks – goes off incognito to see the full extent of this dissolute behaviour pervading the Austrian capital, leading to a complicated series of events.

Arriving at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Swan Theatre in time for the 11.30 am touch tour, and having had time to do justice to the really informative, introductory notes including a synopsis of the play, (available either on CD or online, ahead of any audio described performance), I was less surprised than I otherwise might have been by some of the more unusual props we discovered on this touch tour. Audio-describers, Janet Jackson and Carolyn Smith, led us onto a black padded stage made to look like leather in front of a rear curtain made up of long rubber thongs, hanging from the ceiling. Fellow visually impaired patrons and myself were then shown a whip, a cod piece and even some nipple clamps! We were also able to literally get a feel for some of the costumes, including a leather jacket worn by Pompey the pimp, and the Duke’s fur jacket (artificial of course!) and Juliet’s dress complete with a padded stomach to represent her pregnancy. We were also encouraged to inspect what were effectively lampshades with metal spikes which were worn by silent female guards who stood motionless at the side of the stage with these lampshades covering their faces.

In this production the use of lighting was particularly effective ranging from a golden chandelier made of chains in the palace, to the red lights glowing in Mistress Overdone’s brothel.

Equipped with our headsets it was good to take our seats in time to listen to a ‘live’ rendition of the pre-show notes which helpfully endorsed what we had found out on the touch tour. One particularly crucial element of Janet and Carolyn’s ‘live’ commentary during the 3 hours performance, was the way that they explained when the Duke and some of the other characters, most particularly Pompey, interacted with the audience to great comic effect so we, too, were able to share in the humour – which we all did with relish!

The next RSC audio described performance will be Taming of the Shrew on the afternoon of Saturday 18 February and information on concessionary tickets, the touch tour and how to book headsets can be obtained from the box office on 0844 800 1110.

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