Cheek By Jowl’s early 2012 Barbican production of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is on tour - with a new cast - and it’s easy to see what all the excitement was about. John Ford‘s Jacobean play carries all the tropes of seventeenth-century theatre: lust, corruption, bloody murder and a lusty widow, stunningly complemented with pacy direction and design.
When Giovanni returns from his studies to find his sister Annabella courted by the whole city, he decides to confess his own love and lust for her - and she reciprocates. A nine-month affair results in a pregnancy, her marriage, discovery and ultimate bloody tragedy.
Declan Donnellan’s meaty direction and Nick Omerod’s robust design dish up a heady evening. Ford’s metaphors are made flesh, with the cast ironically presenting the kind of religious tableaux seen in the art of the time, or the Corpus Christi begun sung as brother and sister are carried, religiously, to their bed.
While the production packs a powerful punch, it is not always even. Gina Bramhill and Orlando James as Annabella and Giovanni fall just short of being fully engaging, while villains Hippolita and Vasques - Hedydd Dylan and Laurence Spellman - bring thrills and excitement. Special mention has to go to Nicola Sanderson, who as lusty, chatty, down-to-earth maid Putana, is a joy to watch.
In these days of corruption, lust and bloody murder, this spectacular production of old-fashioned hell-in-a-box is definitely one to catch while you can - but certainly not for the faint-hearted: Jimmy Fairhurst’s maniacal laugh will stay with you for years.
‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Bristol Old Vic 24 Oct - 3 Nov; then Nottingham Theatre Royal and overseas