Review: Pop-up Globe’s Measure for Measure a true success

Colourful, chaotic, fabulous frivolity has roared into New Plymouth. The party started before the performance proper, with outlandish characters pouring into the audience from every angle. 

Beautifully crafted Jacobean costumes and pinpoint perfect makeup whirled around us as minstrels jammed and spontaneous dance sprung up in the aisles.

Measure for Measure
Pop-up Globe
TSB Showplace
Reviewed by Martin Quicke

Larger than life characters elicited squeals of delight from their unsuspecting congregation… all of this and the show hadn’t even started yet. If anything was going to set the tone for the evening it was the opening before the opening. Like an out-of-control student party at the end of exams, we were swept up in the atmosphere and it never let up.

Although the Pop-up Globe itself did not grace our fair city on this occasion, the wonderful performers gave a small but appreciative audience the full Globe theatre treatment.

A well-crafted and extremely functional set and costuming accompanied by some genuinely dazzling performances left us beaming as we trudged back into the dull reality of the 21st Century, despite a few mod-cons making their way in to 17th Century Vienna.

In fact, the modern twists on this dark comedy only served to enhance the spectacle with peals of raucous laughter filling the theatre as some subtle and not so subtle nods toward modernity made their way into the Duke of Vienna’s court.

Intercoms and sex toys may not immediately spring to mind when you think of Shakespeare, but here they are a part of something much bigger and the play is all the better for it.

We are not lucky enough to be able to witness the masterpieces of arguably the greatest playwright to have ever lived as they would have been performed in 16th and 17th Century London, but Pop-up Globe New Zealand has done their very best to bring this world back to life with delicious debauchery.

Larger than life prostitutes and their pimps break down the walls of modern theatre-going etiquette with reckless abandon, throwing themselves on the men of the court and going to ever more risqué lengths in order to have their audience relax and embrace Shakespearean traditions.

Shakespeare’s Globe was for the everyday person. It was an event within an event, and our travelling thespians dragged a typically reserved Taranaki Thursday night audience straight into that world. Once you see two human tongues writhing together like a mug full of slugs you really have no choice but to go along with it and enjoy the ride. We may not have been seven pitchers of ale down and ready to heckle, but we were certainly up for plenty of “Hallelujahs” and a fair bit of jeering where appropriate. 

The villainous Angelo (Hugh Sexton) was deliciously undone by his own scheming, in a truly marvellous performance. Lucio (Max Loban) gave an outstanding portrayal in true commedia dell’arte style, his constant joking, quips and sexual innuendo had the audience doubled over in laughter. Keep an eye on his cane throughout the performance also, for a delightful little treat.

The entire cast were outstanding, however special mention must go to Clementine Mills as Isabella. In a commanding performance, Mills gave us a glimpse of the bleak tragedy underlying the laughs and hidden identities. With the upheaval and chaos unfurling around her, she stood strong and true and was a beautiful foil to the schemes and madness. 

Knowing Measure for Measure as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” I was expecting the comedy to be downplayed, for perhaps the direction of the show to lean towards revealing the darker aspects of the play. Vice versus virtue, the mutual exclusivity of the chaste and the promiscuous. Power hungry psychopaths abusing their power and taking liberties. (Remind you of a certain orange faced world leader?)

However, for this reviewer at least, the fact that the comedy was brought to the fore rather than the bleak undertones was a pleasant surprise. There is a need for real theatre in this world, a real, genuine need for important theatre that dissects society and forces us to reflect upon ourselves. And this can be found in Measure for Measure, with societal upheavals surrounding sex and power easily mirrored in today’s world.

But there is also a place for a well-choreographed, slick and highly entertaining comedy, to remind us to not take ourselves so seriously. That’s the thing about theatre, it can be both, but too much of either can be too much of a good (or bad) thing. 

It is a brave choice to play the comedy as a hard and fast homage to the bawdy days of Shakespearean theatre complete with audience participation, actively mocking religion and politics and plenty of sexually charged antics. The Bard can often be taken too seriously, here we see his lighter side.

The beauty of the Pop-up Globe tour is that playing alongside this glorious belly flop into debauchery, is the sombre tragedy of Hamlet. With the mischief of Vienna still fresh, we turn our attention to the misery of Denmark. 

Reviewed by Martin Quicke