Fortune's Fool Productions

Measure for Measure - Ireland 1916

Production Programme

Measure for Measure - Ireland 1916

Cast

(In order of appearance)

Grainne Good...Country Girl (Not a character in the original text)

Wesley O'Duinn................Pompey, servant to Mistress Overdone

Patrick Murphy..........................................Froth/First Gentleman

Carla Burke... Cute Hoor (Originally the Second Gentleman)

Stephanie Behan...............................Mistress Overdone, a bawd

Shane Casey..........................................Vincentio, the Duke

Neil McCourt....................................................Escalus/Justice

James O'Connor ................................Elbow, a simple constable

Aidan Moriarty.................................................Angelo, the Deputy

Klancy Casey Williams...Angelo's Administrator/Francisca, a nun

Danielle Blackbird..........Lucia (Originally Lucio, a fantastic)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pamela Flanagan...................The Provost (Originally a male role)

Éinne Ó Connachtáin....................................Claudio, brother to Isabella

Muireann D'Arcy...........................................Juliette, beloved of Claudio

Colm Kenny-Vaughan...Friar Peter (Also playing Pompey 10, 13 & 14 August)

Millicent Doyle.........The Laundry Girl (Not a character in the original text)

Johanna O'Brien.............................................Isabella, sister to Claudio

Juliette Crosby............................................Mariana, betrothed to Angelo

Albert Gillick......................................................Abhorson, an executioner

Daniel McDermott.....................................Barnardine, a dissolute prisoner

Directed by 

Stephanie Courtney

Director's Notes

I would like to start with warning to any directors out there who think about taking on plays about Catholic faith: beware. This production of Measure for Measure has been a wee bit cursed. We started with 26 actors and lost many along the way to injury and illness. We lost production staff to illness. The bells of Christchurch (though Protestant) almost thwarted us. We have been afflicted and we have endured - but this is not an endeavour for the faint of heart.

I have wanted to direct Measure for Measure in Ireland since I was a judge for the Dublin Fringe Festival and saw Anu Productions World's End Lane about The Monto District set in The Lab on Foley Street. (To date it is the most extraordinary theatrical experience I've ever had.) I have always been a fan of Measure for Measure and I've always thought it is truly underappreciated. Once I learned about The Monto District, I had to do this play in Ireland.

In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare takes on Catholicism, and it's quite a subject for him. The play might have been written out of resentment for Shakespeare's father being excommunicated by the Church years earlier, although there is no direct proof of this, it is a theory I've held for a long time. The play certainly grapples with all Catholicisms greatest hits and it has been a joy directing this play in a culture that intrinsically understands Catholicism and is no longer indoctrinated in it. Because the conflict of the play hinges on Catholicism's most sacred doctrines (the difference between mortal and venial sin and that the body dies once but the soul is immortal), the play doesn't make much sense to non-Catholics and so it doesn't play very well in America or the UK. 

The play was also possibly being written as the first truly Protestant monarch, Queen Elizabeth, was dying and as James I, a Catholic, was taking the thrown. It might have been meant as a cautionary tale, as power was shifting from the Elizabethan Golden Age to what might have been perceived as the impending shift back to the Catholic Dark Ages. The transfer of power in the play is a kind of ruse that allowed Shakespeare's audience to consider what a return to Catholic moral austerity would bring without having to experience that shift in their real, daily lives. In any case, there is a power shift in the play which lends itself to the shifting powers - politically, socially and religiously - of revolutionary Ireland. 

Lastly, there is a line that Shakespeare wrote for Angelo in 1603/04 that alludes to the Laundries that wouldn't come into being for another 150+ years. When asked what should be done with a young woman, who is days away from giving birth out of wedlock and whose lover is to be executed for getting her with child, Angelo responds: 'Dispose of her to some more fitter place; and that with speed. ... See you the fornicatress be remov'd;'

In the year of 2016, 100 years after The Rising and 400 years after Shakespeare's death, Measure for Measure - Ireland 1916, can offer us perspective on where we've come as a nation and can possibly offer insight about where we're going. This play is often referred to as a problem play, but I disagree. It is a comedy  - as I hope you will find - that deals with very serious, very troubling and sometimes absolutely absurd issues like corruption, injustice, sexual misconduct, abuse of power, austerity, morality, hypocrisy, mercy, prostitution, human trafficking, faith and love. But in the best of Irish literary and theatrical tradition (think O'Casey and Beckett), out of these seeming horrors, we find a humour that doesn't diminish the gravity of the situation, but possibly allows us to see the circumstances more objectively and to discern them with more humanity.

The Monto

The Monto was Europe's biggest and most notorious Red Light District in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like today's Amsterdam, it was infamous; and while prostitution was not officially legal in Dublin, the police did not obstruct business in and around the brothels of The Monto. 

The riots caused by Rosie, the prostitute, in O'Casey's Plough and the Stars must have seemed absurd to those inner city Dubs, who were well acquainted with Monto. The Abbey's audience was obviously not from North side or inner city. 

 

 

The Irish Revolution posed a unique problem for Monto. Under British rule, the government, police and most of Irish society were content to let the district thrive (it is estimated that between 1,600 - 2,000 prostitutes worked Monto in approximately 135 brothels) as long as it stayed within its borders. In one vein attempt to close the brothels, prostitutes started working Sackville Street and that was a problem about which the merchants complained - but left to its own devices, the area was left to its own devices. As Ireland became a Republic, The Monto became an issue and on one night in 1925 it was closed down. 120 arrests were made the night of 12 March, with many prostitutes ending up in Magdelen Asylums.

The premise of Measure for Measure is that the laws over prostitution, brothels and unwed mothers have not been enforced in the city of Vienna in 20 years, but something has changed the Duke's thinking on this and he employees a very strict deputy to enforce these laws without any leniency or grace period. That this premise can easily and convincingly be applied to Dublin's Monto is entertaining to watch and interesting to contemplate, even if it does provoke some moments of pause for the reality of its history. 

One final and unpleasant note on The Monto. Many of the brothels of the Monto were run by women. Women who became wealthy by selling other women, many of them very young girls. The Monto is very close to Connolly Station, and the Madams would dispatch very well dressed young men to the train station platforms to meet and chat up the young, naive country girls who were coming to Dublin to find jobs. The men would charmingly seduce them and brutally rape them so they could be easily indoctrinated into the profession. This is the story of our addition of The Country Girl to Shakespeare's play.

Basing Duke Vincentio on Eamon de Valera

Being a Yank, I don't know as much about Irish history as I should. In doing research for the play and grounding certain characters in history, I started basing my understanding of Duke Vincentio and his actions on Eamon de Valera. It wasn't until our voice & text workshop in March that I found this picture of de Valera disguised as a priest. 

One of the more difficult circumstances in Measure for Measure is the Duke's use of disguise. Most audiences don't buy the trope. It is mostly a theatrical device - and in some places a very sloppy one. (Not only is there no possibility of truth when Vincentio explains to Claudio that he knows Angelo's intentions because he is Angelo's confessor, there is also no plausibility in his own construction of the lie.) But in terms of Irish history, we have an example of a dignitary disguising himself as a priest to avoid detection and in the case of history, de Valera succeeded. 

Even in a small way, this allows us to give ourselves over to this device in ways that might not be as easy for British or American audiences and this allows the story to unfold with less friction or resistance from the audience.

Basing the Provost on Countess Markievicz

One of the challenges of directing Shakespeare in the 21st century is the gender issue. With women not allowed to perform on Elizabethan stages (for the most part), there isn't a good balance of women in any of Shakespeare's plays. Changing the genders of characters is problematic and can really skew the character and warp the play. On the other hand, there are always scores of really talented women auditioning and sometimes I'll make the gender swap because I want that actress in the show. 

When Pamela Flanagan auditioned for Measure for Measure, I was both excited and full of despair. She was a find, but there wasn't a role for her in the play as written. The night before call backs, I happened to read something about Maud Gonne and I realised that in order to set the play in Ireland, I needed a Maud or a Constance. In furthering my research, the Provost felt more like a Countess Markievicz character than a Maud Gonne. Markievicz support of de Velara seemed closer to the character of the Provost, and while not all aspects of the character or the story line fit Markieviecz real history, the seasoning of her is very fitting for this production.

 

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