***NOTE: First posted in my travel blog, Rocky on the Road.
On my first night in Porto, while I was walking around, I came across this poster:
Having not seen a play since I was in Manchester, and desperately craving something theatrical, I decided that I want to see this show. I recall vaguely reading Measure for Measure in my whirlwind Shakespeare course (every Shakespeare play ever written in 32 weeks) but I didn’t remember what it was about – the comedies tend to blend together for me. Still, I was interested in seeing, and hearing, Shakespeare done by non-Anglos, so I got my ticket and away I went.
The Teatro Nacional Sao Joao is a beautiful building. It was rebuilt in 1911 after a first theatre burned down on the same site, and the theatre has been in operation since 1920. Between 1932 and 1992, however, it was used as a cinema. The configuration of the theatre is unlike any I’ve had the privilege of visiting. The orchestra is horse-shoe shaped, and you can walk around the entirety of it in the lobby. It doesn’t look terribly big from that vantage. Upon entering, however, you are treated to a beautiful brown and gold interior, some 3 or 4 levels high. The stage is more or a black-box than a proscenium space, with a large pit in front of the stage. I was surprised: although I was in Row F, I was, in fact, in the second row. I wonder if there is a sub-floor used when the pit isn’t in use.
To recap the plot, the Duke of Vienna decides to leave hastily, and in his stead installs Angelo as governor. It is acknowledged that the Duke’s reign has been somewhat lax, and he feels that he cannot bring control back to his dukedom, which is why he chooses Angelo, a righteous (if not prudish) deputy to lead in his absence. The Duke, however, does not leave, but instead disguises himself as a Friar to observe. In his first act as governor, Angelo prosecutes and condemns young Claudio for having impregnated his beloved, Juliet, and Angelo sentences him to death. Claudio’s sister Isabella, a young nun, is convinced to plead for Claudio’s life, but is shocked when the usually pious Angelo asks her to give herself up for Claudio – carnally. Hilarity ensues (this is, apparently, one of the Comedies, but it is a dark one.)
The production was quite modern and intriguing. The show was produced by Ao Cabo Teatro, Directed by Nuno Cardoso. Click here for a link to the play’s web page and program.
I think that the director must have taken the Duke’s assessment of his rule, one that is lax and has allowed for many legal and moral infringements, to heart. The play opens with what seems like a 5-minute dumbshow, where characters drink, dance, fuck and fight on the stage. I saw at least one penis. Claudio, for some reason, is in semi-drag, wearing a bra, panties, and at one point, high heels. I’m not entirely sure why. Mistress Overdone – Madame Bem-Passada – is a complete whore. Lucio is a gino, for lack of a better word. Even Angelo looks something like a 70s porn star. It’s a dark, dirty place, this.
Even though I couldn’t follow the words, having read the play that day helped me understand what was going on, and I was quite impressed with the acting. Isabella was a pious, but firm young woman; Angelo was icky; the Duke was kind and wise. I was especially impressed with the actor who played Mariana, Mistress Overdone, Juliet and every other female character who wasn’t Isabella. You’d think they could have sprung for one more female actor. Regardless, I was completely sucked in from the word go, and I found the production solid.
The design was understated but effective. A large VIENA highway sign loomed over the stage from up right, and a small vaudeville-type stage was up left, very effectively used as a place for the on-going dumbshow. I kept getting pulled out of the action because the rest of the furniture was stark white patio furniture. While I totally saw the usefulness of this as furniture – it set a stark contrast to the dark of the rest of the play, and it was light and easily moved – the actors were all over it, climbing, dancing, moving, which looked cool but worried me for their safety.
Overall, I found the play quite compelling. I don’t know if it merited the standing ovation it got at the end, but all in all, I thought it was a very good production.
What I found interesting was that the production would read, I think, anywhere. I don’t know what I expected, but I thought that the universality of the direction and design was fantastic, and I really enjoyed myself. I guess that, not knowing *what* Portuguese theatre looks like, I expected something a bit more Portuguese (whatever the hell that means.)
Seeing this production also made me sad that I won’t get to go to London for the Olympics. Not because of the Olympics themselves, but because of the World Shakespeare Festival being held around the same time. Damnation.
On the upside, all this talk of Shakespeare has convinced me to apply to start my Master’s in Shakespeare and Education. Yay for life decisions!