“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall”.
No, I didn’t find this written on the toilet door in one of Brighton’s more nefarious haunts, although similar sentiment, I’m sure, has passed through the minds of many emerging from such venues at the wrong side of six o’clock on a Sunday morning. In actual fact though, the preceding quote comes from the pen of one of this country’s leading literary exports, the venerable William Shakespeare, a man surely more famous for first folios than for the common cubical scrawl.
Now, whilst such academic declarations may well appear patronising to the learned readers of XYZ, there is relevance to the preamble, as this month sees one of the Bard’s most celebrated works ‘Measure for Measure’ come to the Sussex stage, in the form of an upcoming production at The Old Market.
The play itself, written circa 1603, is generally considered to be a comedy, though due to its uncertain tone finds itself commonly termed as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, a term coined by critic F. S Boas in response to the work’s ultimately ambiguous conclusion.
It is however this sense of ambiguity that provides the play with much of its dramatic thrust. With The Old Market’s production seeing the action relocated to the seedy cabaret underworld of 1930’s Berlin and Vienna, the play’s preoccupation with themes such as abuse, manipulation, exploitation of power and sexual freedom appear as relevant today as they were way back in the century in which it was first performed. And indeed, just as it did in Shakespeare’s day, the current production looks posed to ask pertinent questions of its audience. Has sexual freedom gone too far? Should the state legislate for people’s private sexual behaviour? For a city such as Brighton, with its kiss-me-quick reputation and tradition of bawdy promiscuity, such thematic inquiries will have a particular resonance, but rest assured, you don’t have to be a pure-blood Brightonian to appreciate the productions broader motifs, for in the shape of 17th Century Vienna, we find a template for municipal corruption much borrowed by the Gotham’s and Baltimore’s of contemporary fiction.
Admittedly Brighton still has a way to go before we can consider it on a par with the Vienna of Shakespeare’s day, but as issues such as CCTV and the Right to Trial become more prevalent in today’s society, plays such as Measure for Measure remain a vital source of cultural commentary.
8pm (doors and bar open 45 min before show time), £12.50/Conc. £10.00, The Old Market Box Office online, on 01273 201 801 and in person during opening hours.
For more info visit TheOldMarket.com
Words by Ed Kirby