photo RSC programme©

Cast list:
italics=understudy
details: RSC programme
The Duke Sebastian Shaw
William Russell
Upholders of the Law:
Angelo Ian Richardson
Escalus Patrick Barr
Provost >William Russell
Trader Faulkner
Justice Michael McGovern
Elbow Trader Faulkner
Friar Peter Allan Mitchell
Abhorson Ted Valentine
Servant to Angelo John York
Isabella Estelle Kohler
Mary Rutherford
Francisca Eileen Beldon
Mariana Sara Kestelman
Boy (page) Kieran Healy or Gregory Kahn
Offenders to the Law:
Lucio Terrence Hardiman
First Gentleman Peter Harlowe
Second Gentleman Richard Jones Barry
Pompey John Kane
Claudio Ben Kingsley
Froth Peter Egan
Barnardine Anthony Langdon or David Waller
Mistress Overdone Eileen Beldon
Juliet Mary Rutherford
Musicians: Gordon Bennett
Martin Best
Adrian Brett
Roger Hellyer
Tony McVey
Robert Pritchard
Robin Weatherall
Author William Shakespeare
Director John Barton
Designer Timothy O'Brien
Lighting John Bradley
Music Guy Woolfenden

Ian Richardson in Measure for Measure

RSC, Stratford, 1970


 photo Tom Holte©
Ian Richardson (Angelo), Estelle Kohler (Isabella) 

In a preview week in Stratford in 1970, I had the opportunity to see two Dukes and two Isabellas:

    William Russell's Duke was the most likable one could imagine. The effect of a fortyish and rather attractive Duke was to underline at the end of the play, the impression of Isabella's fear of sex, whereas when the lines, "Dear Isabel, I have a motion much imports your good; Whereto if you'll a willing ear incline, What's mine is yours, and what is yours is mine." were spoken by the older and less well-preserved Sebastian Shaw the audience more readily sympathised with her dismay, although I doubt if that was Barton's intention. Both Shaw and Russell were genial Dukes, and I think that in neither case did the bite of "If power change purpose" at the end of Vincentio's explanatory speech to Friar Thomas impress itself so deeply upon the audience as when the lines were spoken by Edward Hardwicke in the Young Vic production a few months later. He, I felt, gave the impression of some knowledge of his Deputy's character, made necessary by his later revelation of Angelo's treatment of Marianna, and gave me the feeling that he needed to test Angelo.
   In reading the play, I had had some reservations concerning the Duke's reasons for throwing the burden of his responsibilities onto Angelo. It seemed to me unfair. Now one felt some sympathy with his wish to prove rather than guess at, Angelo's make-up. He had to know whether the power he felt within Angelo was good, or if the Marianna episode was an accurate pointer to the reverse. Angelo had so far proved himself a capable, though stern, upholder of the law, while his prince was around to keep an eye on him. Would he also prove capable of wielding absolute power with absolute impartiality? I felt, the Duke was almost certain in advance of the result of the experiment.
   The first Isabella I saw exactly matched my preconceived notions. I did not like Isabella. She was almost likable at times, but our sympathy was quite lost in the first encounter between Isabella and Claudio. "Might but my bending down reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed." How self-deceptive those words sounded! Or rather, how like an attempt to deceive herself, for we were not convinced that she was convinced. Isabella was as seeming pure as Angelo.  How unlike the following night, when Mary Rutherford's fiery Isabella tore down the web of hypocrisy, and persuaded us that she was as deeply wounded by her brother's lack of conviction as she had been horrified by the revelation of Angelo's corruption. That performance was unique, and I would like to elaborate on the reasons for this.
   The actress had been playing the smaller part of Juliet in this production the previous evening, and had not before held the stage at Stratford. She walked onto the stage, the play already half an hour late in starting, in Estelle Kohler's dress, visibly pinned up on her, with sleeves hanging to her fingertips. For a few moments she had to struggle to contain the tension of standing on the vast Stratford stage, then it was absorbed into the part.
    Ian Richardson's Angelo was one of the most terrifying performances I have ever seen. In fact, when I reflect, I can think of nothing else to place beside it. When Estelle Kohler played the role, they did not have much eye contact after their first scene: he had his back turned to her, or stood behind her, or simply looked in a different direction, most of the time. But he rarely took his gaze away from Mary Rutherford: with contempt, lust, and the full weight of his power bore her down, and still willed her on to defy him. She returned scorn for scorn, fury for fury, but at the end of Act II, when Angelo bent her back across a table to kiss her, to which Estelle Kohler's Isabella sucumbed after much scratching and struggling, she would not let him do it! He had to give up the attempt, but Richardson is never an actor to allow an effect to be lost; if one thing does not happen as it should, he makes sure something else does. He knocked her off the table. He apparently decided Angelo had a taste for that, and for the rest of the evening the poor girl was pushed, shoved, and, when making her plea to the Duke for justice, literally thrown across the stage. (None of this happened on the occasions I saw Estelle Kohler in the part.) However, at the point where Estelle Kohler made an attempt, considerably more feeble than her struggles in the table scene already mentioned, to attack Angelo and was easily held by the guards while Angelo smiled scornfully from a safe distance, Mary Rutherford shot across the stage like a tigress, hands clawing for his eyes: Angelo almost lost his balance trying to escape.
    Reading through this, I see there may be a possibility of your thinking that in this intense, physical, interpretation subtlety may have been lost, but not so. Partly because in appearance this Angelo was, to borrow from Marlowe, "As beautiful as was Bright Lucifer before his fall". A bright Angel. Mirror bright. There must have been few in the audience could escape the reflection, whose reflection: the Good and Bad Angels were one; were all. Usually I object to applause during a play, but here the spontaneous storms that accompanied Richardson's several exits came from the excitement and need for involvement of an audience that had become as much a part of the whole as those on stage. It was, in short, an evening when one learnt that Shakespeare's words when read, are beauty, when spoken, magic.
    We had a marvellously lively and corrupt Vienna. Ben Kingsley was an unusually interesting Claudio, and Sara Kestleman the neglected Mariana, Angelo's "ex". The Stratford rogues threatened to take over the play as they had done the city. The brilliant Anthony Langdon (a magnificent John of Gaunt in the Barton/Pasco Theatregoround "Richard II"), as Barnardine refused "to die this day, for any man's persuasion". John Kane was as good as one expected as Pompey, and the catalogue of cut-throats, whores, and other sinners, with the characters whirling and dancing around Pompey as he speaks the lines, became a Hogarth drawing come to life.
    Presumably, the different interpretations described above had been developed in rehearsals with Estelle Kohler and Mary Rutherford. It gives some idea of the quality of the RSC at that time, that the company could produce such exciting and thought-provoking performances even at the preview stage, and that understudy casts provided varying, but valid and satisfying, interpretations.

Shirley Jacobs©