News Ticker

Tis a Pity She’s a Whore (Tristan Bates Theatre, London): Review

tis a pity she's a whore Girls just wanna have fun. The cast of 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore'. Photograph: Courtesy of Adam Trigg.

Dynamic, daring, and downright deranged, Lazarus pump new energy and zeal into the infamous Tis a Pity She’s a Whore.

Giovanni loves Annabella. But there’s only one problem: she’s his sister. As Annabella’s other brother tries to marry her off into wealth, a tangled web of bad romances and ruthless revenge tie everyone together.

tis a pity she's a whore

Doctor’s orders. Scene from ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore’. Photograph: Courtesy of Adam Trigg.

Adaptation

Tis a Pity She’s a Whore is not a play I’m familiar with, although certainly aware of. Some synopses describe it as a comedy, others a tragedy, but either way the play was shocking in its portrayal of incest as a virtue in a world full of spiteful carnal vice. But what can John Ford’s salacious Jacobean text say to a modern audience, who by all accounts have been shocked by pretty much everything under the sun, and how do you make Tis a Pity She’s a Whore vibrate with contemporary meaning?

Cue Ricky Dukes and Lazurus Theatre company, already having made a splash with adapting classics such as Caucasian Chalk Circle with frantic grit and day-glo vision. Duke’s adaptation means to make Tis a Pity She’s a Whore modern and vibrant, like he had with Caucasian Chalk Circle, focusing less on the shock but more on the actual relationship dynamic between Giovanni and Annabella. By diverting attention away from the OMG-factor of Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, you end up with something that feels a lot more complex and intricate than something with a blunt sensational agenda. This actually makes you feel a lot more uneasy about the incestuous relationship because it suddenly feels organic and sincere rather than grotesque: arguably what Ford was trying to do in the first place. Add to this Duke’s trademark movement direction, replacing swathes of text with lip-biting and tilted physical burlesques, and a good chopping up, cutting down, and slight moving about of things, and suddenly Tis a Pity She’s a Whore has an impact that looks and feels Lynchian rather than Elizabethan.

The key to this is Duke’s hell-bend on performing the very essence of the text, without the wordy guff and staunch scenes people often find weighs down plays of this period. Indeed, Dukes and dramaturge Sara Reimers have created something near cinematic in its pacing and vibrancy after putting Tis a Pity She’s a Whore through the Lazarus mill: paring the text down to 90 manic minutes. It might have taken out a lot of the very complicated mangle of deaths and devices, but these sacrifices create something clean and direct, even though significantly changed and a little reordered. The result is that its feels succinct and fluid, but simultaneously, Dukes ensures that the beauty of Ford’s prose, and rather bold and unapologetic portrayal of incest, is far from diminished. Whilst Tis a Pity She’s a Whore feels slick and snappy, there’s still a beauteous air of lexicology that captivates the audience as much as the audacity and hyperactivity of Dukes’ adaptation and direction.

tis a pity she's a whore

Host with the most. Scene from ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore’. Photograph: Courtesy of Adam Trigg.

Direction & Production

It’s a wonder that the Tristan Bates Theatre isn’t configured in traverse more often. Lazarus theatre company have really shown what can be done with a traverse, much like Antic Face did with a thrust of For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes ScreamThe acoustic means that even when actor’s backs are turned to you, you can still hear people, and also gives the opportunity for Dukes to really go to town on working the set-up. Add to this designer Sorcha Corcoran’s forebodingly cluttered banquet table, Dukes makes a great use of the set to elevate people and action above the swirling maelstrom of his movement, as well as play with distance between characters. It’s this insatiable lust for energy and visual variety that really propels Tis a Pity She’s a Whore. Nothing ever sits still as there’s always something going on, either unapologetic physical theatre centre-stage or small twitches just beyond the sight boundaries. It’s never so fidgety that it feels restless, but never so slow that it drags. Dukes pumps in action in areas that could otherwise plod a bit, but knows when to put on the breaks for Ford’s text and the exploration of the love between Giovanni and Annabella to come through.

Then there are little touches that show this is an adaptation with a real dedication to the story they want to tell. There’s Dukes’ omnipresent chorus of vying be-shaded eyes from the dark crevices of the theatre, to Corcoran’s placement of an illuminated actual heart (yes, a real pig’s heart) centre stage on a shelf beneath the table, often underneath key interactions between characters: an intense and gruesome harbinger (Chekov’s butcher would be proud). Elsewhere, Jai Morjaria’s slaps of rich primary colours brings out the hysteria in the play and Dukes’ direction, supported by incredibly well executed and devised sound design from Chris Drohan that really lifts parts of the show; from the oppressive choral din of the wedding scene, to the gentle party music “thud thud” of Tis a Pity She’s a Whore insane climax.

Some people might be put off by the stark stylisation, and/or the singifacant changes made to the text. But when you analyse Dukes’ version of Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, as far as pacing and cutting down the narrative to a manageable and spiffy core, there’s very little you can actually fault here. Add to this visionary direction and visuals, and even before you try to critically pull apart Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, you have to wake yourself from the stupor the energetic, sensory, and sharp pummeling.

Tis a Pity She's a Whore

Bad romance. Scene from ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore’. Photograph: Courtesy of Adam Trigg.

Cast

Lazarus is very much an ensemble company, making it particularly difficult to pick out specific performances because so much of what they produce relies on a tight team work. They all work amazingly well together in matching each other’s verve and supporting every other’s strengths to make Tis a Pity She’s a Whore steamroll through with unapologetic panache. However, there are a couple who leave very memorable impressions.

Luke Dunford’s portrayal of the play’s comic relief, Bergetto, is just fantastically executed with an extremely lovable idiocy. Lucy Walker-Evans is also warm as Annabella and really exudes a charisma that’s as gorgeous as her character’s looks. Walker-Evans is so soft and sincere that you really feel and fall for her love for her brother that makes you question your own perception of love and incest in a way you couldn’t quite imagine.

Prince Plockey as Giovanni is absolutely fantastic. Plockey always commands a presence without being bullish or overbearing. He matches Walker-Evans gentleness with an intensity of passion that would be intoxicating if the incest didn’t make it disturbing. Furthermore, Plockey saunters through the text as if second nature, make mincemeat of the prose whilst bringing out the sheer poetry of some of the passages: a ravishing and indomitable Giovanni indeed.

Verdict

T’wud be a pity if you miss thisA landmark production for a groundbreaking company, Tis a Pity She’s a Whore shimmers with frenetic vision and sublime sneering mania. A breathless and breathtaking rapture through a rich and complex text.

Tis a Pity She’s a Whore runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, until 10 September 2016. Tickets are £16 (concessions available). To book, visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk.