Evening Standard

Hayley Atwell: 'Measure for Measure's sex and power tale gained new meaning in light of Brett Kavanaugh case'

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 12/10/2018 12:28:08 Robert Dex
a man and a woman looking at the camera © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Measure For Measure star Hayley Atwell said Shakespeare's tale of sex and power was given "new meaning" by the controversy surrounding US judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The first half of the play revolves around her character, Isabella - a young woman being pressured to give up her virginity to the powerful, predatory politician Angelo, played by Jack Lowden.

Atwell said the parallels with the case of Kavanaugh, who has just been voted onto the US Supreme Court despite a deeply divisive public hearing where he was accused of sexual assault when he was a teenager, were "quite remarkable and purely coincidental".

She said: "While we were in tech before any previews, we had the Kavanaugh case going on. That gave new meaning to being not believed in a legal system."

The Donmar Warehouse production, directed by Josie Rourke, reverses Atwell and Lowden's roles for the second half, which sees the actress play the part of the abuser as her powerful modern woman takes advantage of him.

Atwell said: "Doing it this way is an invitation to the audience to participate in a conversation about what it makes them think or feel when they hear those words said by a woman, and is it worse or is it the same - and what that does to our own prejudices?"

Lowden said swapping the roles led to some of the night's "most exciting moments".

He said: "Hayley and I both get our turn to hit the line 'to whom should I complain. who would believe me?' I think obviously in the current climate that has huge significance when Hayley hits that line.

"And then when I hit that line in the part of the abused of 'who would believe me?' I think that makes the audience think, 'Oh yeah, who would believe you if a man who is abused accuses a woman in power', and that's what the play is there to do."

Rourke, who is leaving the Donmar next year after eight years as artistic director, praised the "infinitely flexible" actors who were asked to play both parts in what she described as an "insanely troubling" play.

She said: "I think the Donmar has always been a great space in which to make beauty appear but also the greatest space to pose difficult questions."

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