Review: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Theatre Royal, by Alan Geary
Brother and sister Giovanni and Annabella share an intense and physical incestuous passion; she gets pregnant. Hippolita, who's been in an adulterous relationship with Soranzo, attempts to poison him because he loves Annabella but is herself inadvertently killed – horribly. Annabella's maid Putana has her tongue bitten clean off whilst making love. Mercifully off-stage, Annabella has her heart cut out by Giovanni, who carries it back on to show the rest of the cast.
This is erotic, dissolute and degenerate; and even in this massively cut adaptation – director Declan Donnellan has reduced it to an hour and three quarters, without a break – outrageously violent.
Obviously not a play to take the hypothetical maiden aunt to for a jolly night out, granted, but everyone else will find a lot to enjoy in this production. In places it's satirical, and even funny, and not just in the black comedy sense.
'Tis Pity is a strange play. Nowhere does John Ford, who wrote it around 1630, appear to take sides or adopt a moral stance. And since, in this production, the whole thing happens on a set suggesting a black, red and white universe of its own, you might find yourself sympathising with blatant wrong-doers, particularly Giovanni and Annabella.
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Acting is impeccable, both from individuals in key roles and from the company as an ensemble – they're often on stage invisibly, watching the main action, functioning almost as part of the audience.
Gina Bramhill and Orlando James, especially the latter, are superb as the siblings. Nicola Sanderson's Putana is a bold and lively performance. Laurence Spellman, as Vasques, with his pedantically deadpan working-class accent is outstanding. Hedydd Dylan makes Hippolita's scenes the most watch-worthy of the evening.
From Cheek by Jowl, this is a fine follow-up to The Three Sisters which they brought here last year.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore is at the Theatre Royal till Saturday, 10th November