Home / Drama / ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

Director: Declan Donnellan

Designer: Nick Ormerod

Reviewer: Paul Couch

Say what you will about Will, Shakespeare stayed pretty well clear of the sordid subject of incest (we’ll gloss over the turgid Pericles with its questionable provenance, and Gertrude and Claudius weren’t blood kin, so there) but his contemporary, John Ford, had no such qualms and Cheek By Jowl’s testosterone-fuelled revival of his Caroline-era potboiler‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore pulls no punches in creating a sleazy, gripping spectacle of a train wreck that can end in no other way than it does.

Giovanni is a horny young Italian nobleman who has fallen in lust with his sister, Annabella. And if you think that’s the fodder of EastEnders, she’s not averse to some familial rumpy-pumpy either, despite being pursued by a brace of mostly half-dressed suitors, including the lordly Soranzo. But wait, it gets better – she and her brother consummate their relationship in the most graphic way possible and, before you can say “Westermarck Hypothesis”, she falls pregnant with his child.

Amid the churning crimson sea of Nick Ormerod’s retina-straining set, the adolescent siblings get closer both emotionally and physically, while around them a Greek chorus of sundry supporting characters look on, sometimes cheerfully encouraging, sometimes silently. Declan Donnellan’s re-imagining of this tragedy has become something that Ford himself probably wouldn’t have recognised, save for the words. Several liberties are also taken with the original story but, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter because it’s an engaging piece that, despite the Early Modern English dialogue, might have been written yesterday.

In a play where just about everyone meets a gory demise, you’d think there wouldn’t be much scope for humour, but you’d be wrong. Despite there being 400 years between them, Ford and Donnellan have created a surreal world where even the most monstrous acts can seem everyday ordinary and elicit belly laughs as well as juvenile sniggers.

As Annabella, Eve Ponsonby brings a feisty yet at times vulnerable teenager to womanhood, underpinning precisely the turmoil that her illicit activities arouse in her. She’s truly tiny of stature and dwarfed by all the topless beefcake that seems to surround her constantly. This only serves to add to the stark contrasts of light and shade in her character.

Orlando James’ Giovanni is a similarly complex character. Once the hormones have subsided and the true horror of his predicament is spelled out to him, Giovanni becomes a much darker force to be reckoned with. Electric performances from both James and Ponsonby create real chemistry between them, which only makes the dénouement all the more appalling.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is a revenge tragedy and the wrathful woman scorned is delivered in the form of Black Widow Hippolita, played with buckets of bile by Ruth Everett, bedded and then, as they say, stitched up like a kipper by Will Alexander’s marvellous thug, Vasquez.

Set for foreign climes, one is unsure what the good people of Taipei will make of ‘Tis Pity on the next leg of its tour. At two hours with no interval and full-on gore, it’s a tough ask.

Photo – Manual Harlan

Director: Declan Donnellan Designer: Nick Ormerod Reviewer: Paul Couch Say what you will about Will, Shakespeare stayed pretty well clear of the sordid subject of incest (we’ll gloss over the turgid Pericles with its questionable provenance, and Gertrude and Claudius weren't blood kin, so there) but his contemporary, John Ford, had no such qualms and Cheek By Jowl’s testosterone-fuelled revival of his Caroline-era potboiler‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore pulls no punches in creating a sleazy, gripping spectacle of a train wreck that can end in no other way than it does. Giovanni is a horny young Italian nobleman who has…

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