Kyle's production concentrated on the comic elements of the play and Michael Pennington's performance transformed the Duke into a humorous romantic lead.

Bearded man in open shirt holds out his hands with a hooded monk nearby
Michael Pennington as the Duke, 1978, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC Browse and license our images


Director Barry Kyle's clear and straightforward production emphasised the comedic aspects. On the opening night in Stratford-upon-Avon, an electrical fault resulted in a continuous strobe lighting effect on stage. Despite this technical glitch, the production was commended by critics for its sense of fun, exemplified by the hilarious performances of John Nettles as Lucio and Richard Griffiths as Pompey.


The enigmatic character of the Duke was given a refreshing interpretation by Michael Pennington. His personable Duke was humane and playful, whether sipping some of Mariana's wine on the sly or confiding in the audience about his problems exercising authority. It was "an extremely brainy study of a onetime ascetic who, by putting on religious gear, discovers the worldliness buried inside his own nature" Michael Billington, Guardian, 7 November 1979.

Pennington continued to play the Duke when the production toured to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on its transfer to the Aldwych Theatre in London, but David Suchet, Sinéad Cusack and Natasha Parry replaced Jonathan Pryce (Angelo), Paola Dionisotti (Isabella) and Marjorie Bland (Mariana).

Christopher Morley's designs

The set designed by Christopher Morley highlighted the theme of appearance-versus-reality. The basic set design was an austere black "exposed box of mobile walls over which unengaged members of the company peer into a bear pit" Irving Wardle, The Times, 28 June 1978. On the eve of an execution, the prisoners rattled their cups against the bars of the set.
The Jacobean-influenced costumes ranged from sumptuous red robes and dark formal outfits for those in authority, to plain monastic habits for Isabella and the friar. The gallery below shows some of the costume designs, including footwear.

Three men hold hands in the middle of a white stage, the middle one richly dressed in red gown and feathered hat
Escalus (Raymond Westwell) and Angelo (Jonathan Pryce) greet the returning Duke (Michael Pennington, centre), 1978, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Photo by Tom Holte Theatre Photographic Collection © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Browse and license our images

FOCUS ON A SCENE: Act 3 Scene 1

CLAUDIO     Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
                    To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot.

ISABELLA     O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
                   Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice?

Scene summary:
The Duke, disguised a friar, visits Claudio in prison and counsels him to accept death. Isabella arrives and asks to see her brother so the Duke leaves, but hides where he can overhear their conversation. Isabella tells Claudio that he must die because the only alternative is unthinkable. Claudio asks his sister what she means, so she confesses that Angelo is prepared to spare him in exchange for her virginity. Initially, Claudio is adamant that Isabella should refuse Angelo’s request, but his resolve weakens as he thinks about the reality of death. Claudio argues that it wouldn’t be a sin to save his life but Isabella is furious and tells him it’s best if he dies.

In the next gallery you can see relevant prompt book pages with stage directions as well as production photos, revealing how the scene was realised in Barry Kyle's 1978 production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Programme cover for Measure for Measure 1978 showing a praying monk in front of figures in an orgy



Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Conrad Asquith – Barnadine, Gentleman

Alan Barker - Officer

Diana Berriman - Francisca

Susanna Bishop - Nun, Whore

Marjorie Bland - Mariana

Kevin Brannan - Boy

Dennis Clinton - Friar Peter

Alan Cody - Gentleman, Servant

Paola Dionisotti - Isabella

Donald Douglas - Provost

Dennis Edwards - A Justice, Abhorson

Sheridan Fitzgerald - Juliet

Geoffrey Freshwater - Elbow

James Griffin - Officer

Richard Griffiths - Pompey

Allan Hendrick - Claudio

Simon Hopkins - Boy

Darlene Johnson - Mistress Overdone

John Nettles - Lucio

Michael Pennington - Duke Vincentio

Jonathan Pryce - Angelo

Ian Reddington - Froth

Juliet Stevenson - Nun, Whore

Ruby Wax - Nun, Whore

Raymond Westwell - Escalus




Director – Barry Kyle

Designer – Christopher Morley

Lighting Designer – Brian Harris

Music – James Walker


The RSC's archive is held at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. You can visit the Library and Archives there to look at production related information, including photos, videos of shows and stage management documents:

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive homepage

You can search the RSC catalogue here: 

RSC performance database

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