In a terse review of what was probably the first performance of Measure for Measure – for King James I at Wilton House – his kinswoman Arabella Stuart observed “ridiculous it was”.

This is a verdict with which few have disagreed in the years since.

So what’s to be done with it?

Best perhaps to do what the Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director Gregory Doran does in his new production and rejoice in its very ridiculousness.

Knowing looks from the players accompany some of the dafter bits of the plot, while at other times the seriousness of the content is not allowed to stand in the way of a a good bit of larking about.

Not for the first time with this play the Vienna in which it is set is updated to the beginning of the 20th century, the time of Sigmund Freud whose psychoanalysis could profitably have been applied to some of the characters on view.

Prime candidate for his couch would have been the religious zealot Angelo (Sandy Grierson, pictured) who, dressed in a little brief authority as regent to the absent Duke (Antony Byrne), proceeds to abuse his powers in the most shameless and hypocritical way.

Reactivating draconian laws against immorality, he determines to sentence to death young Claudio (James Cooney) for making his fiancée Juliet (Amy Trigg) pregnant.

When his sister Isabella (Lucy Phelps, pictured), a novice nun, intercedes on his behalf, the smarmy monster promises (mendaciously) to spare his life in exchange for her chastity.

Happily, though, the ruler is not absent at all, merely prowling around disguised as a friar – “the Duke of dark corners” – viewing his deputy’s nefarious work and eventually putting a stop to it.

An odd cove without doubt, he too could have supplied rich study for Freud, especially when – though “not inclined that way” (towards women) – he suddenly proposes to a bemused Isabella.

Before emerging from disguise he helps in some of the play’s best comic moments when the foppish man-abut-town Lucio – great work from Joseph Arkley – fills him in on the dirty duke. It says much for Shakespeare’s genius in these matters that we get a double dose of this character assassination.

The low-lives, too, keep the laughs coming, especially the blowsy Mistress Overdone, brilliantly portrayed by Graeme Brookes.

In a production more than usually light on gender-bending (by current RSC standards), we also find Claire Price delivering a fine turn as Angelo’s good-sort councillor colleague Escalus.

Splendid visuals from designer Stephen Brimsom Lewis include arresting church interiors and a glorious Sisleyesque backdrop for Mariana (Sophie Khan Levy) in her moated grange.

* Performances of Measure for Measure continue at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until next Thursday. The show moves to London’s Barbican Theatre from November 12 to January 16, 2020. For info and tickets: