Why The Bard beats Bond for fresh consistency!

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.12.57I'm just back from a fantastic night out at the Young Vic theatre to see a brilliant production of William Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure. On the train home with Mrs Taylor, as we raved about the show, I started thinking how incredible it is that Shakespeare is still selling out in 2015. Sure, James Bond is going strong 50 years after launch, with a post on the latest movie, Spectre, here. But "The Bard" beats Bond hands down. Measure for Measure was written in around 1604, more than 410 years ago! Hell, even my 17 year old daughter Jessica came back from an English trip to the show saying how cool it was. 

So, how can a Shakespeare play like Measure for Measure still be relevant more than four centuries after it was created?

1. Enduring themes

Like most great stories, the play has at its heart themes which are enduring, as relevant today as they were back in the 17th century. "Measure for Measure is more relevant than ever," as Mark Lawson wrote in The Guardian. Duke Vincentio struggles like every leader to balance the need to enforce rules with the desire to be loved by his people. There is an unhealthily high incidence of men sleeping with women and then deserting them, sometimes leaving them to bring up children alone; unfortunately this is still an issue in today's society. The relationship between the condemned Claudio and his sister Isabella dramatises the issue of loyalty, and what you would sacrifice to save a family member. And then we have the drama of a man sentenced to death when his supporters say he should be freed, a story which regularly plays out in the USA.

2. Consistent "properties"

Measure for Measure has some of Shakespeare's trademark "properties" that he uses in many of his plays. These create a sense of familiarity and help make his work distinctive versus other plays. For example, we have a couple of silly characters called Pompey Bum (what a great name!) and Froth to provide some funny moments and light relief, a device Shakespeare often uses . We have a strong but flawed leader in the shape of the Duke. And then there is one character pretending to be another in order to catch someone out, with Mariana pretending to be Isabella to entrap the villain of the piece, Angelo. 

3. Fresh production

Sure, there are enduring themes and some distinctive theatrical properties, but how to really make a 400 year old play relevant for todays's audience, including teenagers? This is where the genius of director Joe Hill-Gibbins and his team comes in. They have created a "bold, wildly unorthodox staging with an audacious aesthetic," in the words of Sarah Hemming in The FT. You know you are in for something out of the ordinary when the opening scene reveals dozens of blow-up sex dolls, "a mountain of false flesh that represents the sex-soaked scandal Vienna has become", as Sarah explains!

The staging also makes use of modern technology, with characters being filmed as if in a reality TV show and images projected onto screens either side of the stage. And guess how Claudio and Juliet's illegal act or pre-marital sex is discovered? By the leaking of a home-made video of them "getting it on", similar to the one that made Paris Hilton famous!

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The characters have also been cleverly updated, with Angelo looking like a born-again, bible carrying preacher (below left). Escalus, written as a Lord, is now a power-dressed female executive (middle). And Pompey Bum the bartender is presented as a dodgy looking American dealer or pimp (right).

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In conclusion the Young Vic's production of Measure for Measure shows the power of fresh consistency to keep a "brand" relevant for today, even 400 years after launch. So, the next time your team suggests that your 18-month old campaign is "worn out", perhaps you should organise a trip to the theatre to watch Measure for Measure?