The Bockley Jack Theatre, despite being on the ground floor, has a dark,sticky, subterranean feel. Its a feel that Immersion Theatre use well, plunging their Measure for Measure audience immediately into a seedy world of corruption, vice and menacingly choreographed gyrating bodies (movement Jess Mack) . On the one identifiable piece of set(a velvet ‘throne’ of power) the Duke (Brian Merry) sits blindfolded, an immediate hint that he is as duplicitous as Angelo (Gregory Simpson) whose military stiffness is only broken in pursuit of his base desires.
Everything, even the tiniest detail, suggests just how degenerated the world of the play has become. Trousers pockets are ripped, left hanging by a thread; flesh is laid bare, waistcoats and braces are worn without shirts hinting at a formal world which is barely remembered.
In look and style you are instantly reminded of the worlds conjured up by Chicago and Cabaret. The meddling puppet master like Lucio (James Clifford) has more than a hint of the Emcee whilst Mistress Overdone (Georgina Panton) is as controlling of her world as ‘Mama’ Morton. Pompey played here as gloriously transgender -hints at another musical giant Frank n Furter. Rob Taylor-Hastings performance is constantly engaging, toying with but never quite treading over into the ridiculous.
Through this dark, dark world there are two shafts of light, shards of humanity which shine even more brightly because of what surrounds them. Isabella is the most obvious, Rochelle Parry’s performance combines innocence, vitality and in one spine chilling shriek (a fie) a real sense of anguish and desperation. More subtle is Adam Cunis’ Provost. Outwardly a brutish thug who you would not want to meet in a dark street Cunis gives us ever increasing hints of empathy – his Yorkshire tones adding a distinct colour to the ‘music’ of the play.
A much cut text inevitably leaves some clunky and confusing moments but the narrative develops at an almost breathtaking pace which pretty much sweeps all before it. As a comedy, Immersion have gone dark. In this production any humour comes with a chilling, razor sharp edge. But the real joy of this piece is in the intimacy provided by the Jack Theatre. With the action literally in your face and this close to Shakespeare’s verse, it is impossible not to be swept up by the nervy, edgy, even dangerous energy of James Tobias’ production.