‘New Queer Imaginings’: Behind the Scenes of UCL Shakespeare Society’s Measure for Measure

HARRY SPEIRS interviews Katya Schwarz (co-director), Chiara Venetucci (co-director) and Shria Jindal, the creative team behind this anachronistic, chaotic and truly exciting new play by the newly formed UCL Shakespeare society.  


When I asked Kit why she chose such a niche and sidelined Shakespeare play to reimagine on the Bloomsbury Theatre stage, she responded: ‘I did it for A-Level and, frankly, got obsessed with the text’. Her adaptation, following the current interest in imagining cultural, historical, and literary queerness on the stage is not unfamiliar to London, but this production’s new all-inclusive approach to the queer imagination is something both startling and new. It began with the passion, humour and profound knowledge of a directorial team who not only know what they are talking about, but have directly translated the wit of Shakespeare into an 18th century period into a play ‘where it just fits’. 


Shakespeare’s original Measure for Measure depicts what we may call today ‘the red-light district’ of Vienna, with its loose restrictions upon sexual morality, slowly changing under the new rule of Angelo, the Duke who has just come to power. The play centres on political power changing between old and new social systems. This new adaption brings the fun and games of Regency (early 18th-century) molly house culture: a queer moment in English history, filled with cross dressing, sexual transgression, and the deep celebration of homoeroticism. As Kit confirms, only a small number of lines in the original play have been changed and this new context fits Shakespeare like a glove.  

This play’s celebration of queerness is but one of its many triumphs. You can expect some profound new takes on Measure for Measure’s main characters, not to mention an ensemble of actors which are sure to deliver. Shria explained that ‘the play is essentially about the ensemble’, Chiara backed this up convincingly, and so I am now assured that once again a Bloomsbury audience will be whirled out of their seats by a cast working in unison. The show is set in a London not too far from our own –  everyone crammed together, where those up till the early hours may meet those just setting off to work – making a play that is ‘aesthetically pleasing’ (Shria), but also ‘currently relevant’ (Katya).  

As a reviewer, I always must ask myself: how is this show different from any other production of Measure for Measure? I was firmly reminded that this play is not about the main characters, but about the aesthetic of the molly house, not to mention the fun of working with the surface pleasure of Shakespeare’s verse. Every performer enters the real life of a character, even the small parts which might come on for one line, will know what they had for breakfast that morning. For those interested in the play’s marketing, Kelly Yeo has headed a team that has brought an anachronistic approach to the play, the posters pink and black tell you this is not Shakespeare as we have seen him before; in the words of Shria ‘we have tackled the marketing and production in a clean and simple’ manner. 

For costume, the team have chosen a ‘bare boned approach’, with designs that register at both the original language of play but also the new specifics of a Regency adaptation. Katya was very keen to tell me that due to the way the original play was written, there will be no blackouts – apart from the beginning and end – which is always a treat for audiences and creative teams alike. I got a little whisper that there will be some stairs, winding together at the centre of the stage to separate a higher and a lower section. Unfortunately, that was the end of the inside information they were willing to give.  

Whether you are new, or a familiar member of London’s developing and very queer theatre scene, Bloomsbury Theatre’s Measure for Measure is a very good place to start. On from the 15th to 17th of February 2024, this play is not one to miss.