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array(1) { [0]=> object(WP_Post)#6820 (24) { ["ID"]=> int(2819) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "7" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2017-12-11 12:41:21" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2017-12-11 01:41:21" ["post_content"]=> string(3551) "Can you impose a feminist ideology onto a four-hundred-year-old play about adultery, virtue and premarital sex?This is the challenge facing director Lizzie Schebesta, whose No Doubt, rebel-woman soundtracked Measure for Measure is trying to find a foothold of relevance in 2017.When Duke Vincentio (Yalin Ozucelik) assigns temporary power to hungry Angelo (Gabriel Fancourt) the change of regime is swift: in one short montage women are forced to cover their hair, alcohol is banned, and “fornication” attracts the death penalty. In a show of resistance, a woman reads Clementine Ford’s populist, feminist-aligned Fight Like A Girl.Schebesta has liberated the script from its male-centric gaze, assigning characters new genders to shift the prison setting into a women’s facility, and Claudia (Janine Watson) rather than Claudio, is now the plot’s catalyst.Literally branded as a fornicator, Claudia is arrested and sentenced to death for her relationship with a woman. Her friend Lucio (Mackenzie Fearnley) turns to Claudia’s sister Isabella (Claudia Ware), a novice nun, for help.Isabella begs Angelo for her sister’s life and he suggests a deal: he’ll save Claudia if he can take the young nun’s virginity.Schebesta’s take on Angelo is one that represents every boss, celebrity or high-profile politician who promotes conservatism but abuses their power to harm and control women and their bodies. That makes it easy to root for Ware’s Isabella and Watson’s Claudia, who share a familial defiance, though each wields it differently: Claudia through action; Isabella through speech.But there’s no feminist take that can reconcile contemporary distress with Measure for Measure. Schebesta’s ideology is never followed through to robust conclusion; it nods to contemporary thinking but stops short of embracing it into a revolution.In the production’s well-intentioned, smoothed-over last act, dirtbag Lucio’s punishment remains: he’s forced to marry a sex worker. Vulnerable women remain the property of men here, even when the good, more ‘respectable’ women win the day.The pop score, smartphones, and choice of reading material feel anachronistic against Sallyanne Facer’s old-fashioned costumes, and while a queer love story is now at the heart of the play, the queerness is irrelevant to the conflict; the crime is sex, not sex between two women, which, in this hyper-conservative reality, surely would be the more egregious offence. The couple’s romance, which we first glimpse in a furtive proposal, is quickly abandoned and never satisfyingly revisited.There are bright spots: Ozucelik’s Duke (disguised as Friar Lodowick) is charmingly frazzled and Fearnley’s Lucio languidly insolent; Aanisa Vylet commits to her role as the pimp Pompey with comic relish, and Jess Loudon, as Mistress Overdone, sings a beautiful rendition of House of the Rising Sun as the play returns from interval.But if you’re looking to fuel your feminist fire, or find some righteous relief in women winning the day for once, you won’t find it in this Measure for Measure. It might be a disrupted take on the classic, but it needs to be shaken up a lot harder to really explode.Measure for Measure was reviewed at Bella Vista Farm Park." ["post_title"]=> string(19) "Measure for Measure" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(115) "Can you impose a feminist ideology onto a four-hundred-year-old play about adultery, virtue and premarital sex?" ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["comment_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(21) "measure-for-measure-2" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2018-01-04 09:58:05" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2018-01-03 22:58:05" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["guid"]=> string(60) "https://www.audreyjournal.com.au/?post_type=arts&p=2819" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_type"]=> string(4) "arts" ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "0" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" } }
Article

Measure for Measure

"I’ve had my way with the play"

Director Lizzie Schebesta addresses Measure for Measure's “problem” status in an avowedly feminist (but fun) production.

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Category: Theatre
Company: Sport for Jove
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Shakespeare’s women problem in a post-Weinstein world

Date: 8 Dec 2017

Uneasily suspended between comedy and tragedy, Measure for Measure is usually listed among Shakespeare’s half-dozen “problem plays”.

At its heart lies the demand that a novice nun, Isabella, sacrifices her virginity to save her brother’s life.

How can modern audiences – and women in particular – connect with this?

The most recent production of Measure for Measure seen in Sydney came from Britain’s Cheek By Jowl and Russia’s Pushkin Theatre Company, a highlight of the 2017 Sydney Festival. It was a brutal, stripped-back affair set in a corrupt regime and featured a coercive seduction scene that would be even harder to watch now, in this post-Weinstein world.

Benedict Andrews’ Measure for Measure for Belvoir in 2010, was an intense, claustrophobic production in which the performers’ every move was caught on surveillance cameras. When the disguised Duke Vincentio spoke the lines “millions of false eyes / Are stuck upon thee”, he wasn’t exaggerating.

Now Sport for Jove is tackling the play in its outdoor summer season. Director Lizzie Schebesta is addressing its “problem” status head-on in an unapologetically feminist production she describes as “The Handmaid’s Tale meets Orange is the New Black”.

“When I first looked at the play and its premise about people sentenced to death for sex out of wedlock, it seemed so outdated,” Schebesta says. “Yet so much of the play is very relevant now: the conversation around the dissolution of good leadership; the discrediting victims of sexual assault. Those things are so pertinent.”

Schebesta’s production might upset traditionalists. She has changed the gender of several characters, cut lines and abandoned the engagement scene at the end of Act V.

“A Shakespeare scholar might say I’ve had my way with the play,” Schebesta jokes.

In this production, Claudio – a man on trial to be executed for fornication and impregnating a woman out of wedlock – is a woman, Claudia, played by Janine Watson. Claudia has committed fornication but hasn’t impregnated anyone.

“Changing the gender of Claudio was very exciting because now one of the most famous scenes in the play, between Claudio and Isabella [played by Claudia Ware], is between two sisters,” Schebesta explains.

“They are discussing their sexuality with each other. A sister is asking another sister to sacrifice her virginity to save her life. It seems much more relevant than a man asking for that. And the dynamic between Janine and Claudia is really thrilling. They have great chemistry.”

The decision to turn Claudio into Claudia has a ripple effect on the production. The prison is now a women’s prison with all the inmates played by female actors, including the murderer Barnadine.

“I’m making riskier decisions in order to get women playing more interesting roles in a Shakespeare play,” Schebesta says. “All the female characters in this production are gutsy underdogs and rascals.”

Schebesta is a founding member of Sport for Jove. She has performed with the company for a decade. This is her ninth summer season at Bella Vista, her first as a director of a full-length Shakespeare production.

“As an actor, there are Shakespearean characters I love, but I do feel the frustration that I will always speak fewer lines than the male cast, and I have to make a lot with a little, so I wanted to change that,” she says. “The language is brilliant and Shakespeare is a humanist. I don’t find his writing all that sexist so it’s not difficult to change the gender of his characters, particularly in this day and age where we don’t define ourselves by our womanhood as much as by our humanity.”

Ware says her take on Isabella, the novice nun, is coming from a place of empowerment not obedience. “She is not a moralist, frigid, zealous woman of faith,” says Ware. “When we looked at the history of women entering convents it was a source of great empowerment because it subsumed traditional expectations and archetypes.

“Isabella doesn’t fit the maid, widow, wife, whore archetype so entering into an all female, faith driven environment, was a source of fiery strength for her. But her overall journey includes many shades of grey and Lizzie is encouraging me to embrace the greyness rather than make her a saint. She is a complicated woman.”

Yalin Ozucelik is attempting to give Duke Vincentio a new spin, too.

“He’s a very slippery character,” he says. “He’s written as a god-like figure who puts all the pieces together for a wonderful reveal at the end. I’m trying really hard not to play it like that. I’m making him more like Iago [a role Ozucelik played for Bell Shakespeare in 2016], someone who is thinking on his feet. Also, I’m adding some comedy to him. There is absurdity in Vincentio.”

Ozucelik hopes the audience experience will be a provoking and pleasurable one. “This is my fourth season playing outdoors and it’s always such a joy to work here as an actor. But I’ve also been an audience member and brought along a nice little picnic and a rug and enjoyed the night. There is so much to love about seeing a play outdoors.”

Schebesta says she’s very aware of the outdoor audience and their desire for an involving experience. “We are performing to people with picnics, who are here around Christmas, and they want to crack open some sparkling wine and see something entertaining. We’re going to deliver that. It’s a powerful play because it punches you in the guts and then hits you with something hilarious. It keeps you exhilarated.”

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