Everybody's watching throughout Declan Donnellan's production of Shakespeare's most cryptic comedy, presented at EIF in this Russian language version produced by Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod's Cheek by Jowl company and Moscow's Pushkin Theatre. Church, state, military and common man and woman are all in it together from the start as they march around an array of five large red cubes in silence after what sounds like the shackles of eternal imprisonment have sounded out in darkness.
As each one breaks off one by one, a pecking order is gradually revealed, so when the Duke goes undercover, leaving Vienna in the hands of Angelo, an increasingly oppressive world takes shape. With Claudio sentenced to death for sex crimes, it is left to Angelo to see how far the condemned man's saintly sister Isabella will go to save him. Andrei Kuzichev's Angelo is a dead-eyed bureaucrat out of his depth, while Alexander Arsentyev's wily Duke runs rings round him and everyone else besides in a frighteningly relevant show about puritanical hypocrites who manipulate everyday power-plays to serve their own ends.
When the red carpet is eventually rolled out to mark the Duke's triumphalist return, the audience themselves become complicit witnesses to his high-rolling populism. In this way, the justice he stage manages like a trouper who has his people in the palm of his hand, isn't done for any kind of caring, sharing sense of humanity, but for purely selfish reasons. When Anna Khalilulina's Isabella finally takes his hand, it is with an uncertainty that may finish her yet as she embarks on a not so merry waltz.
The Herald, August 17th 2016