'Tis Pity She's a Whore

  • Theatre
  • Drama
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© Manuel Harlan
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© Manuel Harlan
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© Manuel Harlan

Two years since it last hit a London stage, Cheek By Jowl’s rich and raucous production of John Ford's Jacobean splatter-fest is back. It’s a smart and sexy interpretation, slicing the tragedy back to a lean two hours and ramming it home with a queasy mixture of carnival glee and charnel-house gore.

‘’Tis Pity She's a Whore’ is a curious play, foregrounding the moral and mortal consequences of an incestuous passion and consigning thoughts of revenge to two subplots. One of these, the machinations of Richardetto and Grimaldi, has been pulled up by the roots, leaving the gradual unwinding of Annabelle to take centre stage. Her besotted brother’s opening speech takes place during a tumble on the ever-present crimson bed, and the unnerving sensuality brought to her by Eve Ponsonby’s performance renders peripheral characters almost pallid.

Designer Nick Ormerod’s set further emphasises her youth and immaturity, with a bedroom wall plastered in posters for ‘True Blood’ and hunky pin-ups. With Orlando James’s Giovanni played in a similarly gauche manner, it’s the posturing courtliness of suitor Soranzo which becomes the more palpable evil.

There are some startling moments, of sudden sublimity lifted on the cast’s choral chants, and of graphic bloodshed, seen or unseen. It’s everywhere a bold re-imagining, yet somehow after Joe Hill-Gibbin’s masterful version of ‘The Changeling’ in 2012, its bravura feels tempered, its interventions less purposeful or disruptive.

For all of its aesthetic and dramatic success, it’s hard to pin down what Donnellan is really getting at here, what purpose he believes the play to serve. Excessively broad characterisations by Ruth Everett and Nicola Sanderson, the only other female characters, leave wider issues of gender stranded in absurdity. Still, enjoyed for what it is rather than what it fails to be, this ‘’Tis Pity’ is an energising assault on a fascinatingly cruel tragedy.

Event phone: 020 7638 8891
Event website: http://www.barbican.org.uk
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