Unsanctioned & Measure 2 Measure - A Double Bill

Unsanctioned

written & directed by Sam Chittenden

Measure 2 Measure

Based on the play by William Shakespeare, adapted & directed by Sam Chittenden

 

Review by Andrew Kay

In a post pandemic world where the safe option for theatre makers is to stage the tried and tested it was refreshing to go along to a local theatre and see new work. Sam Chittenden’s double bill of two new works at New Venture Theatre was a stirring experience. The first, Unsanctioned, is a story of a future world, a world devastated by climate change, a dystopian world where life is regulated, restricted and remote. Adam and Lil live in isolation undertaking research for a distant regime. Life is bland and basic, their days are filled with routine, a prescribed diet and monotony. And when that life is interrupted by a stranger and a baby we discover sadness.

What follows is a story of manipulation, of sexual tensions and blackmail as the three figures mentally spar to find a way forward and avoid discovery by the dominating regime.

The story and the writing far exceeds the standard movie science fiction format, it is not larded with the usual heroics of the genre but instead is filled with moving depictions of human frailty and desperation. Sam Chittenden has created a work reminiscent of the writing of Philip K Dick, perhaps the greatest of SF writers.

Catie Ridewood is excellent as the brittle but bright Kina, focused and determined. James Stallwood’s Adam is finely portrayed, he displays the traits of masculinity but always tinged with the character’s lack of confidence and weakness. Sammie Bailey is equally captivating as Lil, damaged and desperate yet still capable of softness despite having experienced loss on many levels.

The staging whilst stark is stylish and intelligent and that sense of style is carried forward into the second part of the evening where Shakespeare’s comedy (was Measure for Measure ever really that funny) is stripped back and given a far more contemporary slant.

Now we are given a dark tale of male sexual manipulation and exploitation, of the abuse of power and of male assumption of power too.

Sam Chittenden takes the original script and retains the bard’s words intact, but for a few added lines to support the changes and the twists, simply removing the supposedly comic scenes of the original to create a far more powerful piece that exposes human traits for what they really are. And in a final twist the whole is brought right up to date.

The cast initially seem to be racing through the lines but soon settle into a far more comfortable pace, for we the audience and no doubt for them. The language needs to be delivered in a way that audiences have time to absorb. Mickey Knighton’s Angelo is a fine portrayal of arrogant charm, Andy Hoggarth is equally convincing as the manipulative puppet master Vincento and Harry W Freeman displays skill in his depiction of the flawed and self serving Claudio. Alex Louise is excellent as Mariana but the highlight of the piece is owned by Rose O’Kane who as Isabella is captivating throughout.

A quick but well deserved mention must go to Michaela Ridgway and Sonya Smith who have created a clever set that transforms from a bland future world to mediaeval Vienna very convincingly and with some delightful tricks, a shelf of white bound ledgers in the first is echoed in immaculate detail by red bound books in the second. Richi Blennerhasset’s use of boiler suits throughout works well in Unsanctioned and for the men in Measure 2 Measure but fails for the female roles in the latter where gender identity needs to be clearer.

All in all this double bill is a dramatic tour-de-force on so many levels, and makes for a very satisfying evening of new theatre.

Andrew Kay
the latest - 19 March