Reviews West End & Central Published 23 February 2012

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Barbican Silk Street Theatre ⋄ February 16th - March 10th 2012 and tour

The ultimate taboo.

Julia Rank

The brother and sister in John Ford’s notorious Caroline tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore haven’t got any excuse: they can’t plead ignorance like Oedipus or King Arthur, nor have they been brought up in isolation and deprived of any other love like the siblings in Angela Carter’s re-telling of the play in the style of the other John Ford (the director of westerns). The lack of misunderstanding is perhaps what’s most shocking of all – incest wasn’t an uncommon dramatic device in Renaissance drama, but it tended to be a supporting theme rather than the main focus. Declan Donnellan’s flamboyantly modern and pulsatingly energetic approach (with a pounding soundtrack by Nick Powell) sees the play performed in two hours straight through with the subplots trimmed, in which Jane Gibson’s choreography and Ford’s words are seamlessly in synch.

Donnellan places the female protagonist Annabella at the centre of the proceedings: she sprawls on her bed in front of her laptop in a blood-red bedroom (designed by Nick Ormerod). The wall is covered with posters depicting the iconic movie romances Gone with the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the virgins and vampires of True Blood and The Vampire Diaries that directly reflect Donnellan’s cinematic style that slices from one scene to another, and an adolescent indulgence of supernatural romantic fantasy in a line that spans Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland to the present day. Her grungy appearance with a partially shaven hairstyle (reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander’s in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and tattoos may not be typical of a demure virgin, but her diminutive physique is that of a child. She writhes in an erotic dance that the rest of the company join in with. Displayed as a prize for her parade of suited suitors who prance around her bedroom like male models in a fashion show, she takes the role of a virgin and whore in a series of tableaux moulded by the men who constantly surround her.

Lydia Wilson’s Annabella is an inquisitive teenager who drinks cocktails for breakfast and keeps her stuffed toys on top of her wardrobe; she is sexually precocious and uncertain, but becomes a wise and introspective woman by the end. Jack Gordon’s vulpine Giovanni, with his mass of curly black hair and confidence that they will be saved from damnation by the purity of their love, is the dominant adult figure in the relationship, but his sister is equally eager, demonstrated by their playful movement. Flouting the ultimate taboo could be seen as the ultimate rebellion, yet somehow the act itself with its genuine tenderness seems less harmful than the torture, mutilation and murders that follow. The behaviour of Soranzo (Jack Hawkins), Daddy’s ideal son-in-law, is equally repellent, as he undresses his bride like a doll and beats her on their wedding night, while echoes of their wedding disco can be heard in the background.

The performances are uniformly ferocious: Suzanne Burden exemplifies the idea that ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ as she struts around the stage as the jilted, vengeful older woman Hippolita. Her greasy ponytail-d accomplice Vasquez (Laurence Spellman) wears an expression of tight-lipped malice. Lizzie Hopley is disconcertingly chirpy as Annabella’s confidante and enabler, whose close relationship with her charge extends to examining her between her legs after she and Giovanni have done the deed, while the siblings’ doting father (David Collings) is an oblivious onlooker.

The black and red-on-red colour scheme (expertly lit by Judith Greenwood), leading up to the final images of bloodstained chaos is reliant on absolute precision in movement and timing. There’s a meticulous method in this madness, as befits the way in which much of the violence is pre-meditated rather than being random acts of passion.

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Julia Rank

Julia is a Londoner who recently completed a MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College. Resolutely living in the past until further notice, Julia finds enjoyment in exploring art galleries and museums, dabbling in foreign languages, rummaging in second hand bookshops, and cats.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore Show Info


Produced by Cheek by Jowl

Directed by Declan Donnellan

Written by John Ford

Cast includes Suzanne Burden, David Collings, Ryan Ellsworth, Jimmy Fairhurst, Jack Gordon, Nyasha Hatendi, Jack Hawkins, Lizzie Hopley, Peter Moreton, David Mumeni, Laurence Spellman, Lydia Wilson

Link http://www.barbican.org.uk/

Running Time 2hrs (no interval)

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