Tuesday, November 29

Half Measures – Shakespeare North Playhouse

War. Corruption and power plays. Women fighting for autonomy. All very Shakespearean themes but all still very much identifiable in today’s society. Tonight, we are asked if “life itself is always worth more than the way it is lived”.

One Hour Theatre has re-visited its 2016 debut play, Half Measures, written by Tim Prentki and directed by Victor Merriman. The piece melds together selected scenes from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, with the modern tale of Nadia, an Eastern Ukrainian illegal immigrant, who seeks a better life away from her war-torn country.

When Nadia catches the eye of a married hotshot footballer Angelo, she must decide how far she is willing to go to get the happiness and security she craves.

By then focusing on the Measure for Measure storyline of Isabella, a postulant nun who is faced with a deep moral crisis when blackmailed by the corrupt Angelo to sacrifice her chastity in return for the life of her condemned brother, we have an engaging exploration of two worlds where, despite the hundreds of years that separate them, are both rife with misogyny and abuses of power.

Both arcs benefit from a fine cast of actors. Eve Charlton as Nadia is a sympathetic character, full of enthusiasm for her new life only to sink into cynicism and bitterness at the results. There are some lovely moments in her monologues (such as describing herself as ‘illegal…not criminal’) that she plays with lovely nuance. Miles Poller makes the most of his cameo as her footballer paramour Angelo is effective; both are convincing with their accents.

Paul O’Hanrahan is an excellently unpleasant Angelo in the Measure for Measure sequences, never over-egging his relentless pursuit of Isabella and his volte face in the presence of his superior, the Duke, as his confidence in his own power crumbles is an enjoyable moment.

Nuala Maguire also provides a compelling account of Isabella’s struggle, lacing her dialogue with the sense of moral strength that starts to waver as things get more desperate. Frustratingly though it feels we lose a chunk of her performance behind her veil when she is facing Angelo. There is another nice cameo from Prentki himself as the Duke of Vienna.

With the storylines compressed down to less than an hour, Prentki has the luxury of ignoring some of the ambiguous tone that saw Measure for Measure deemed a ‘problem play’ instead creating a neat and tidy-ish new narrative (Isabella’s redemption via the Duke, and Angelo’s subsequent repentance, feels somewhat abrupt). And Nadia’s despair at her limited options due to her illegal status rings very true in the wake of movements like ‘Me Too’.

Ultimately, it feels like a timely reminder that in the midst of all the focus on ‘wokery’ and arguments over civil liberties and equal rights, scenes like these continue to play out, out of sight and mind and that there may be much more complexity behind bad choices that people may make in the pursuit of happiness.

One Hour Theatre are supported by Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise. For what’s on at the Shakespeare North Playhouse, visit https://shakespearenorthplayhouse.co.uk/

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 30th September 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★