Home / Drama / ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore – Barbican, London

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore – Barbican, London

Writer: John Ford

Director: Declan Donnellan

Reviewer: Chris Combemale

Cheek by Jowl returns to the Barbican with an inventive re-imagining of the classic Restoration tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore but, despite its refreshingly avant-garde approach, Declan Donnellan’s production left me feeling cold.

First performed in 2012 but now with a new cast the international theatre company certainly did not fail in its mission to reinvigorate the classics, and the updating of John Ford’s controversial tragedy certainly brings the play galloping into the 21st century. Now set in modern-day Italy, Ford’s play revolves around the incestuous relationship between young scholar Giovanni and sister Annabella amid a swirling world of lies, deceit and manipulation. Friar Bonaventura, his tutor, fails to steer Giovanni towards redemption and once a series of Annabella’s suitors arrive in Parma, happy relationships clearly become a thing of the past in Ford’s poignant tragedy.

Donellan relies heavily on his ensemble cast, often to create stylistic, physical pieces of movement that catapult the energy of the piece and provide some of the most striking and memorable moments of the production. Immediately launching the performance with a high energy dance piece, the tone was set for a high intensity fast paced production that pushed boundaries with its shockingly challenging and provocative material. Reminiscent of Berkoff, suitors and ensemble actors were kitted out in sharp black suits as they gathered in elegant and poised tableau surrounding the two lovers. In a piece overflowing with striking, visceral imagery, Nick Ormerod’s bright red set subtly adds to the production and enhances the story telling without drawing focus away from the plot.

However the lead performances of Eve Ponsonby and Sam McArdle ultimately fail to evoke any strong emotion, undermining the devastating tragedy of the play’s final moments. Their performances are not weak but their highly classical performance, perhaps attempting to fill the space of the venue, fails to mesh with such a modern reinventing. While there were flickers of brilliance in creating an entirely believable passionate relationship there seemed less truth and honesty in the rest of their performance. Despite this, Will Alexander gives a gleefully Machiavellian performance as Vasques and Donellan’s production did not fail to entertain.

Cheek by Jowl’s daring re-imagining of this incestuous tragedy brings a refreshing take on an old classic with poignant choreography and a sharp ensemble. However the success of such an innovative concept is often undermined by less believable and truthful performances in the lead rôles. Delightfully entertaining but lacking a magic spark of emotion.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Runs until 26th April

 

Writer: John Ford Director: Declan Donnellan Reviewer: Chris Combemale Cheek by Jowl returns to the Barbican with an inventive re-imagining of the classic Restoration tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore but, despite its refreshingly avant-garde approach, Declan Donnellan’s production left me feeling cold. First performed in 2012 but now with a new cast the international theatre company certainly did not fail in its mission to reinvigorate the classics, and the updating of John Ford’s controversial tragedy certainly brings the play galloping into the 21st century. Now set in modern-day Italy, Ford’s play revolves around the incestuous relationship between young scholar…

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