When I found out that the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) were coming to The Marlowe Theatre this winter I was absolutely thrilled. Having watched Romeo and Juliet at The Globe Theatre in Summer 2017 and spent some time in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon in Spring 2018, I was delighted at the thought of getting to enjoy some Shakespeare only footsteps from our home. When the Measure For Measure press night invitation dropped into my inbox, I was pleased to see that the leading play on the tour was a brand new Shakespearian play for me. This is the first of three Shakespearean plays being showcased at The Marlowe Theatre this RSC season and in this 11 day period As You Like It and The Taming Of The Shrew are also being performed. Putting on 3 full-scale productions in just under 2 weeks is not a simple task and last night at the press night I was able to witness one of these productions in the flesh. Ahead of the performance I was given a tour of the backstage RSC areas and the Measure For Measure set, which was particularly fascinating as they’d recreated early 20th century Vienna.
Backstage with the RSC
Company Manager Linda Fitzpatrick met me at stage door a couple of hours before the performance and took me straight onto the Marlowe stage to see the Measure For Measure set. She explained that taking RSC productions on the road requires a big production team and whenever they get to a new theatre, getting the set and technology sorted is a high priority. I got to see the tall digital screen that provides rotating backgrounds throughout the performances, the reflective mirrors that are used on stage and the temporary bridge that some of the performers stand on. Beside the stage were clearly labelled props, including the head of a prisoner in a bucket – a particularly important object in the play.
Backstage, Linda showed me the costume and wig departments, which both have a key role in recreating the mood and atmosphere of the time period. Some of the costumes were covered in lavish embellishments, showcasing wealth and prosperity. The wigs were very natural looking which is ultimately the aim of any wig artist and I could easily pick them out on stage later in the evening.
The last stop of the tour was the theatre seats as Linda wanted me to experience an RSC vocal warm up. I really enjoyed seeing the actors in action, chanting out vocal exercises to an empty theatre, preparing themselves for opening night at the Marlowe. It also gave me a chance to see the cast out of costume and appreciate their raw talent without all of the costume, make-up and special effects. I was thrilled with the backstage tour experience and am very grateful to Linda for her time. It was a theatre fan’s dream getting to go backstage with the RSC!
Shakespearian activities ahead of the performance
In the gap between the tour and the performance, I headed out into the Marlowe foyer to see some of the Marlowe’s associate school students performing scenes from Shakespeare. The students were very talented and what an excellent opportunity for them, getting to perform at The Marlowe Theatre on an RSC night. In addition to these snippets of Shakespeare’s iconic plays, there was a temporary exhibition on in the lobby featuring previous RSC costumes.
Measure For Measure – a review
At 7:30pm Stuart and I took our seats for the performance. The play was 2 hours 25 minutes of classic theatre, with lots of laughter thrown in. I was aware of the plot in advance but I was expecting it to be quite a serious production, so the amount of humour in the play was a pleasant surprise. Unlike Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet, Measure For Measure features many principal characters and this kept the play exciting throughout as you were always internally questioning what would happen next for each character. It was neither a love story nor a tragedy, but like all Shakespeare plays it was filled with plenty of life lessons. To summarise, Measure For Measure tells the story of Claudio, a young man who gets imprisoned after a temporary leadership and law change in 1900s Vienna, and his sister Isabella who wishes to find a way to save him from the death penalty. Will Isabella go to extreme lengths to save her brother? It is a story of misfortune, family and morals.
The set was very dark and bare, allowing the audience to focus on the characters and what they had to say. The RSC actors are so talented that they don’t need complex sets to work in; just give them a stage and their spoken words and body language will do the rest. The mirrors at the centre of the stage were also very clever, showing the actors from every angle. I’ve never seen mirrors used like this before in theatre and they created so many interesting visuals. The set felt enigmatic throughout the production, really helping to build drama in some of the more intense scenes.
Carefully positioned lighting helped warm up the stage for the light-hearted scenes. The opening brothel scene with humorous characters Pompey and Lucio for example felt very different to some of Angelo’s solo scenes in his office. Scenes alternated in tone throughout the production, providing the audience with lots of variety.
Stand out performances for me were Antony Byrne as the Duke and Lucy Phelps as Isabella. The Duke was so funny when in disguise as a friar and equally as fair as a ruler. Isabella’s monologues were filled with lots of emotion when she was faced with the painful choice of keeping her virginity or saving her brother Claudio’s life. Both Isabella and the Duke played a key part in making the audience dislike the evil temporary ruler Angelo – played brilliantly by Sandy Grierson.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first RSC production and after both the tour and performance, I’m keen to see the actors on their home turf in Stratford-Upon-Avon one day. What a fabulous evening filled with world-class theatre. It was amazing being able to just ‘pop out’ for an evening of Shakespeare; most people have to book a special trip to London or head to Shakespeare’s hometown to see the playwright’s plays in action. The RSC are at the Marlowe until Saturday 8th February and you can find ticket availability for the three productions here. A huge thank you to the RSC for the guided tour and The Marlowe Theatre for the gifted tickets.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx