Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Measure for Measure, and The Servant of Two Masters

Photograph by Zelko Nedic

Sport For Jove Theatre co. presents MEASURE FOR MEASURE, by William Shakespeare and THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, by Carlo Goldoni. Bella Vista Farm, 8 - 30 December. Laura Shakespeare Festival, Everglades Gardens 14 - 30, January.

With this year adaptations of Shakespeare's MEASURE FOR MEASURE and Carlo Goldoni's THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, Sport For Jove (SFJ) present their ninth summer season at Bella Vista Farm, and in Leura, in the Everglades Gardens.

Lizzie Schebesta, the Director of MEASURE FOR MEASURE, declares in her program notes to be 'an unashamedly feminist theatre maker and will frack my way into a play to bring out its female voice.' So with excision of text - even a whole sub-plot and several characters - and much re-writing, with a Design concept (Sallyanne Facer) that liberally borrows from contemporary television imagery: THE HANDMAID'S TALE, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, (WENTWORTH), this company have re-gendered some characters (e.g. Claudio becomes Claudia; the Viennese prison, all, a female penitentiary), to help justify the final solution to one of the famous 'problems' of the play: the marriage proposal from the principal protagonist, Duke Vincentio, to the novitiate nun, Isabella, by having Isabella snatching the Duke's proclamation microphone and sharing the last famous speech.

It seemed to my companions and I on the Opening Night that none of this adaptive 'fracking' seemed to be strong or radical enough to win us, convincingly, to this feminist theatre maker's reading of this importantly ultra-naturalistic 'modern' take of a corrupt governmental system (Monarchist/Fascistic) observed by Shakespeare in the late Elizabethan world where no-one, male or female, is either black or white in the vice or virtue stakes, but are dwelling rather in the humanistic 'grey' areas of perception where all are nicely 'drawn' through an Overdone lens. The observation and moral critique is unreservedly fierce - it was in Elizabethan terms and still is today, making it one of the more regularly contemporaneously revived plays from the Shakespeare canon. (Erroneously, I have heard that MEASURE FOR MEASURE is rarely seen - well, I can talk of six Sydney productions including the Cheek By Jowl production as part of last year's Sydney Festival (in Russian) - which was very fascinating.)

This questionably contemporary 'fracking' for political statement for SFJ pales in its attempt when one looks at, say, Charles Marowitz's version of MEASURE FOR MEASURE (much reviled, by the way). I would wish that what Ms Schebesta and her company have wrought was more radical in its re-writing (adaptation), had more courage, to win us to her argument, with this play as its foundation, since she lacks, she says, no shame. Go for it - this version seemed timid - shallow?

On Opening Night, maybe, the literature adaptation and the Design flourishes of the production were slightly premature in its reveal to an audience (costumes, a mess), and so in performance was made  to be opaque, for it seemed that the company of performers had not quite settled into the characters or rhythm of the production. Not all finding the surety of technique either vocally or physically to deliver Outdoor Shakespeare and handle seamlessly the many scene changes and help us find sense to the musical decisions of a popular culture soundtrack that may have needed a foreknowledge of the original to have thematic affect. The production intents were blurred in focus. The play, if you were able to hold attention, shockingly relevant and disturbing.

'I will proclaim you (as a sexual predator)', says Isabella, to Angelo.
'Who will believe you?', answers the male power broker.

Yalin Ozucelik, as Duke Vincentio, stood head and shoulder above the other actors in his handling of the space, play, production and audience on the night, although his idiosyncratic take of the infamously difficult role of the Duke with his machinations was not easily interpreted for full appreciation, without more consistent surrounding support. Janine Watson playing the re-genedered Claudio as Claudia was bold though not partnered well enough by Clauida Ware's Isabella, to bring the the famous prison scene, at the centre of this play- some say some of the best of Shakespeare's writing - to brilliance of clarity or appreciation. Adele Quero, in her brief work as Mariana, was a great relief of perceptive interpretative demands, with a calm inner centre and knowledge on how to deliver for the audience.

The following week, Sport for Jove presented a production of the well known THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, by Carlo Goldoni (1746), adapted freely, and Directed, by George Banders and Francesca Savige. Now this play, too, is a regular work seen in Sydney, the last time, hilariously adapted by the National Theatre of Great Britain as ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS.

My observation as to the wholehearted success of this production of this play, as compared to the MEASURE FOR MEASURE, was that, here, the adaptation of the original play seemed to be a carefree and more radically daring one, with all involved gleefully engaged in the 'inventions'  and popular culture references - not just in their bits but with a fine sense of the whole construct of the madness of Goldoni's' world, and secure knowledge of how their bits fitted together to make this comedy work like a well oiled clock. This company, essentially the same one that was engaged with the previous week's Shakespeare, seemed to be cocksure of what they were doing and technically had a 'handle' on to how to convey their gifts and hard work to the audience in this outdoor space.

George Zhao as the madcap servant Truffaldino, has an innate charm and physical dexterity capable of seducing any audience to empathy to his character's dilemmas. Whilst the promise I saw in Adele Querol's Mariana, last week, is brought to admirable fruition, as Beatrice, in her double act as male impersonator, supported goofily by Andrew Hearle, as Florindo. Whilst Gabriel Fancourt is an able 'idiot', Silvio Lombardi, in pursuit of his love Smeraldina. The other comedy is oiled by the exaggerations and fine judgements of Yalin Ozucelik, as Pantalone. But, the ensemble concentration and its awareness of how this  production is meant to work is what keeps the energy smooth and pointedly funny.

The Design of this show by Sallyanne Facer, especially, the costuming, is more spot-on than last week, and the widely referenced music choices are much more useful in holding the show together under the Sound Design of Tegan Nichols. The Lighting of both shows was wonderfully versatile in difficult circumstances made to order by Matt Cox.

Another Summer Season from Sport For Jove - one hilarious and silly, one still developing to find its balance, and darker in intent.

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