Temptation is everywhere in Gordon Barr's stripped down adaptation of Shakespeare's negotiation of power and justice, which for his Bard in the Botanics production becomes a simmering treatise on male privilege. Here, Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, is a Mad Men style boss who goes on sabbatical so he can keep an eye on the little guys beneath him. In true locker room fashion, he hands the keys to high office over to pious young pup Angelo, whose uptight manner can't resist falling into bad habits. This comes in the shape of trainee nun Isabella, who, in a bid to save her wild child sister Claudia from execution, is prepared to give away every virtue she has.
With only four actors to play with, and with Claudia a female composite of Shakespeare's male original, Barr's production cuts to the play's patriarchal heart. As church and state conspire to save their male skins, Vincentio's Machiavellian tendencies look almost filmic in Kirk Bage's tightly focused delivery of an establishment figurehead who looks after his own.
The production also contains a quartet of some of the finest performances you're likely to see on a stage for some time. As well as Bage, Adam Donaldson's Angelo is a self-flagellating adolescent, whose growing pains of sexual repression make him look like he's about to burst into tears or else soil his trousers. Isabella's difficult choices are captured by Nicole Cooper with a glance. It is Esme Bayley as both Claudia and Vincentio's compromised secretary Escalus, however, who expresses every complex distillation of personal politics the play is loaded with in its knowing nod to the normalisation of everyday misogyny.
The Herald, July 17th 2017