Monday, 17 November 2014

Longhurst's 'Tis Pity She’s A Whore is taboo, indecent, blood-gushing and too good to be true. ★★★★★


©The Globe/Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
John Ford’s 16th century, incestuous and blood splatter drama has made its way into the brand new, beautiful and elegant candlelit jewel box of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Its title 'Tis Pity She’s A Whore plays a significant role than simply highlighting the sensationalist and taboo nature of the play. ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore’ is also the last line said by the Italian Cardinal, which infers the religious context that foreshadows the fate of the two siblings Annabella (Fiona Button) and Giovanni (Max Bennett) who fall desperately in love despite social conventions. 
Its imaginative director Michael Longhurst, who won the Evening Standard Best Play 2012 Award for directing Nick Payne’s dazzling play Constellations, has managed to produce a delightful and minty production which contain all the corruptive and blasphemous elements of Ford’s world, that is, until we reach the final Jacobean blood bath scene. Yet even when the gore spews on stage, the show shimmers with holiness no less enhanced by the atmospheric candles that alight our little, 340-seater, golden playhouse. 
©Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
The beauty of the Alex Lowde’s set is heightened by its musical ambiance composed by Simon Slater with the use of Elizabethan instruments; lutes viols, recorders, and unusual, eerie and sardonic sounds produced by never-seen-before metal and steel percussion instruments to denote the bad omens to come. Choral singing is also subtly incorporated to add irony to the impiety of the naïve brother and sister.
The play however has several suspense-driven subplots encompassing the incest story, which makes the play fruitier and thrilling to watch; there’s never a dull moment. We have Bergetto (James Garnon), Grimaldi (Jethro Skinner), and Soranzo (Stefano Braschi) all racing for Annabella’s hand in marriage; the betrayal of Vasquez (Philip Cumbus) to Hippolita (Noma Dumezweni) who jilts her into thinking he will marry her after he has murdered his master Soranzo, who is also Hippolita’s past-lover; and the in-the-dark murder of innocent Bergetto who Grimaldi mistakes for Soranzo. Most of all, there’s the parallel slapstick comedy to balance the misfortunes, all carried out in the first half of play, by Poggio (Dean Nolan), Bergetto, Donado (Sam Cox) (who is Bergetto’s uncle), and Annabella’s maid and tutoress Putana (Morag Siller). 
There are bucket loads of stagecraft to marvel at too. This includes the cleverly executed sword fight scenes, which are choreographed to look as wicked as real fights, the alluring contemporary dances, and semi-Elizabethan, semi-contemporary costumes designed by Jemima Penny. The standard of talent and theatrical acting is exceedingly high; knifes stabbing into one another appear so genuine that audiences would think that murder had taken place at The Globe but this is quickly rectified by the ensue of poetic dialogue and gallons of fake blood flowing out of the woody Sam Wanamaker stage. 
[Left to Right: Richardetto (Daniel Rabin), Giovanni (Max Bennett), Cardinal (James Garnon) Donaldo (Sam Cox) & the lovers' father: Florio (Edward Peel)
Bennett portrays an ardent and star-struck lover that turns into a jealous and blood hungry anti-hero; the audience gasps as they see him hold a dagger with Annabella’s pulsating heart in his hand. This cleverly compares with Button’s ability to bestow a passive and vulnerable Annabella whose tender naturalism is sullied by her clandestine relationship with her brother. It begs the question as to whether she would have fallen for her brother if he hadn’t had confessed his love first. Garnon's ability to transform from the inexperienced and scatterbrain Bergetto to the revered Cardinal with gold rings and red silks robes is phenomenal as well. His funny and hobbit like Bergetto is mirrored by his loyal and clowney servant Poggio played by Nolan. Cumbus’ hypocritical and semi-villainous character Vasquez is quite new too. He provokes hatred even if his deeds are done for selfless reasons. And straight shooter Braschi is our chauvinist noble who does a handsome job of keeping the tension tense. 
Longhurst's 'Tis Pity She’s A Whore is taboo, indecent, blood-gushing and too good to be true. The production warns, ‘Contains nudity and scenes of a sexual nature’ and there’s also an unsettling suggestion that Annabella is pregnant with her own brother’s child, which can make the audience queasy. The fact that Bennett and Button look like siblings doesn't help either. There’s a lot to appreciate about the delightful stage and visuals; but be sure to go in with a full stomach as there’s a plenty of Jacobean bloodletting that transpires later on in the play.
This production is currently showing until the 7th December but tickets are selling fast. Click here to purchase tickets.