Review: Measure for Measure / Мера за меру, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican

“We have strict statutes and most biting laws”

Cheek By Jowl’s Russian-language take on The Tempest is seared on my memory as a most vivid interpretation of the play that I can’t imagine being bettered – any other version of Miranda and Caliban’s relationship just feels wrong now. So the news that their collaborators from Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre were returning once again to the Barbican at the end of a major tour of another of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure. And once again, Declan Donellan and Nick Ormerod’s reimagining makes an indelible stamp that ensuing productions at the Globe and Young Vic will have to work hard to live up to.
 
Starting off very much in the abstract as the 13-strong company move as an amorphous single body in and out of the shadows of Ormerod’s container-strewn set, murkily lit by Sergey Skornetskiy. But as the cast make circuit after circuit, subtle differences in their movements set the scene of this particular Vienna, a world where authoritarian rule dominates harshly, and in which individual freedoms are challenged. As its ruler, Alexander Arsentyev’s Duke appears paralysed by a crisis of faith and so surrenders the pressures of ruling to his bureaucratic deputy Angelo, a fervent Andrei Kuzichev, but as this is Shakespeare, he disguises himself as a friar and hangs out nearby to observe the outcome.

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Review: The Tempest / Буря, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican

“The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance”

My first Cheek By Jowl production was Macbeth last year but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by it to be honest but seeing that their new production to arrive at the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican was a Russian-language version of The Tempest (and my record with foreign-language Shakespeare at the Barbican has been a resounding success thus far) I was easily tempted back to try this out: be warned, this review contains much detail as I absolutely loved it! This production is by their Russian sister company, the Chekhov International Festival but directed and designed by CbJ’s Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod putting a unique spin on Shakespeare’s tale of art and illusion, magic, betrayal and power as Prospero seeks to avenge the wrongs done to him and restore his daughter to what he sees as her rightful place.

Igor Yasulovich’s Prospero is grizzled, embittered and cantankerous from the off, there’s a real climate of fear on the island as the inhabitants are all-too-aware of their master’s capricious moods as he sees himself very much as the patriarch of this place. Donnellan has drawn on a Russian aesthetic at a time poised somewhere between communism and capitalism. So Trinculo and Stephano’s abuse of Prospero’s dwelling takes place in a high-end boutique exposing their materialistic tendencies and the masque at the wedding is a whirl of Communist worker propaganda and peasant dancing. That this is what Prospero calls to a halt in a moment of meta-theatre in order to deliver his ‘our revels now are ended…’ soliloquy is given an even stronger power as art and politics combine in a flash of stark realisation as the stage manager comes on, the show stops, Yasulovich talks to us as himself, stripping back all the artifice before us. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest / Буря, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican”