'Tis Pity She's a Whore at the The Young Vic
The Young Vic reasserts the mission embodied in its name to attract rowdily youthful theatregoers to The Cut in Waterloo with a production of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, a gorily modern Jacobean tragedy that unfolds when a young man, Giovanni, is driven to consummate his love for his sister Annabella, shortly before she marries, leaving her pregnant. But whether the packed houses are there to see John Ford's stunning tale of incestuous passions and filial jealousies, or to see the cute and charismatic young British actor Jude Law as Giovanni, is another question.
Those coming to see Law, making an overdue return to the theatrical stage where his career began before he went on to fame in such Hollywood movies as eXistenZ and Gattaca, will not be too disappointed. Though he begins the evening by playing with such a feverish intensity that you fear he will have nowhere to go later, he keeps the passions running high throughout - and arouses the passions of a few in the audience, too, when he's seen with his shirt off.
But the play should be more than just an opportunity to see yet another young gun paying his theatrical dues and revealing his pecs. ('Tis Pity's last major London production at the National Theatre starred another young pup of stage and screen, Rupert Graves, while at New York's Public Theatre a recent production starred Val Kilmer). Unfortunately, David Lan's production unfolds initially as an erotic but incoherent pantomime, with Eve Best, making her professional acting debut in the role of Annabella since graduating from RADA in July, an improbable focus for Giovanni's passions.
Though the production does gather in intensity if not intelligence as the drama accelerates in the second act, that momentum comes from the play as much as the staging. Played on a traverse stage of two raked ramps (starkly designed by Richard Hudson) to an audience seated in the round, the costumes are symptomatic of the problems of a production that doesn't know where or when the action is being located: some are modern, some classical.
Seeing the original production of the play in 1661, Samuel Pepys (who confessed that he'd drunk too much wine beforehand and was acccordingly 'not fit for business') called it 'a simple (ie foolish) play and ill acted' before adding, 'only, it was my fortune to sit by a most pretty and most ingenious lady, which pleased me much.' I had no such luck of being distracted by a pretty and ingenious man or woman, or the benefits of a stiff drink beforehand. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had.