Reworking classic masterpiece for a contemporary audience

Reworking classic masterpiece for a contemporary audience

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Measure For Measure

As part of the celebrations marking 400 years since the death of Shakespeare, Trinity Theatre is putting on a production of Measure For Measure which starts next Tuesday. Eileen Leahy talks to its director Kirrie Wratten about what we can expect from her intriguing futuristic interpretation of this infamous play

Can you give a brief synopsis of the plot for those readers who are unfamiliar with the story?
The Head of State abdicates and hands over power to his deputy, Angelo, with instructions to crack down on vice. Angelo takes his new authority to heart, and starts by making an example of a young man, Claudio, whose girlfriend is pregnant. In Angelo’s new regime sex outside marriage is a capital offence, and Claudio is to be beheaded. His sister, a novice nun, pleads for his life and all the brothels are being demolished. So, will they find a way to make a new living, and will Claudio survive to see his baby? And what happens to the nun?

What is it about Measure For Measure that so appeals?
It’s a hugely rewarding play to explore. The big themes of justice, corruption, lust, the abuse of power and the mutability of truth are still, 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, the stuff we read about every day and see on our screens. The characters are also diverse and so rich, and have been interpreted in many different ways over the years.

What can audiences expect of your version?
The time period in which it is set. After much thought I decided upon the near future. There were several reasons for this but perhaps the most compelling one was the current political instability, and my concern about where that might lead. Extremist views have seemed a lot closer to home of late, and the extreme form of some religions enforces very strict moral and religious codes. And in recent years justice, even in the UK, has not always been as impartial and as fair as we might expect.

What did you find most challenging when putting this particular Shakespearian play together?
Well, there are always challenges and funnily enough, one of the biggest for me was that Trinity Theatre and Arts Centre (TTC) was doing a short video about our production for YouTube. I wasn’t doing the filming, but I was responsible for coming up with ideas that Sam Marlow, the young film maker putting something together could use. It meant a completely different way of looking at Shakespeare’s material and finding a way to give the flavour of the play in a very short space of time – without giving away key scenes.

How did the collaboration between yourself and Trinity come about?
I was a very active member for several years, but from about 2000 I began directing elsewhere – mostly on the fringe in London and at various festivals. A few years ago I started directing locally again, and was asked to do Arcadia for TTC in October 2012. Measure for Measure is the first play I have directed for them since then.

Have you done anything there before?
Yes. The first play I did for TTC was Much Ado About Nothing in 1997. I directed, stage managed and worked backstage at Trinity, on and off, until about 2005.

What other pieces of theatre have you directed and which has been most memorable and why?
In almost twenty years I have done many pieces, from new plays by unknown writers in scruffy pub theatres, to putting Shakespeare on a village green and church crypt. Therefore to pick out one thing is difficult but if I had to choose, it would be a play called W;t (sic) by Margaret Edson. The play is about a middle-aged American Professor of English, who specialises in the poetry of John Donne but is also dying of ovarian cancer. It is funny and moving in equal measure and I was blessed with a very strong cast.

What’s next in the pipeline?
TTC are mounting a production of Arsenic and Old Lace in October, which I am sure will be a treat and I look forward to being asked to direct for them again before too long.

Measure for Measure starts at Trinity Theatre on Tuesday July 12 and runs until Saturday 16 July. Tickets for the evening performance which starts at 7.30pm cost £14. Matinee performances (Weds and Sat) cost £9. Call 01892 678678 or visit www.trinitytheatre.net to book.