Measure for Measure

by William Shakespeare
The Stage Club
KC Arts Centre, Singapore

Measure for Measure is one of those problem plays of the Bard that neither fits into the genre of comedy nor tragedy. It's certainly funny in parts and nobody dies at the end but it's also rather dark and ambivalent in tone. 

The play revolves around the Duke of Vienna (here presented as a Duchess) who temporarily leaves the affairs of the town in the hands of Angelo, a stern and severe deputy, while she journeys abroad. Angelo is bent on exterminating moral corruption, forcing brothels to be shut and sentencing a young man, Claudio, to death under ancient fornication laws for impregnating a woman without completing the necessary marriage formalities. Yet Angelo is shown to be completely bereft of moral values himself, seeking sexual favours from Claudio's sister Isabella, a trainee nun who desperately pleads for mercy on his behalf. 

It's soon revealed that the Duchess had never actually left town but been taking on the guise of a nun to keep an eye on things from a distance. Through a series of clever tricks and conceits, Angelo's real intentions are finally revealed and Claudio's life is spared. 

Director Susie Penrice Tyrie gives us a production that has a fun, folksy feel. It's certainly talky but manages to balance the laughs with harder-hitting drama and cleverly makes us ponder on the purpose of laws around the world that continue to plague us even today. While there are markedly differing abilities from this cast, Neena Khattar's Duchess and Neal Thapar's Lucio are obvious standouts who delight with their beautiful verse-speaking and confidently carry their scenes to perfection. 

What I would perhaps have liked to see was a stronger feminist slant in this interpretation. In the original play, the Duke proposes to Isbella at the end and she famously remains silent. This ambiguous acquiescence would have had an even stronger impact with both characters being women but it's not really explored at all. 

All in all, a smooth and competent production and kudos to the Stage Club for bringing us this rarely-performed play.

The Crystalwords score: 2.5/5


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