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 The Theatreguide.London Review

'Tis Pity She's A Whore
Silk Street Theatre, Barbican    February-March 2012

Declan Donnellan of Cheek By Jowl is a very talented director, but one not beyond the temptation to show off, and some of this production is more about 'Oh what a clever boy am I' than about the play. 

Ford's 1630ish melodrama is about the incestuous love of a bother and sister, and the need to cover her pregnancy by marrying her off to a hotheaded man who learns of the ruse. (Donnellan omits at least two subplots, a half-dozen secondary characters and several incidental deaths.) 

The production is in modern dress, all the action moved to Annabella's typical-teenage-girl bedroom, with her bed pointedly the single dominant element of designer Nick Ormerod's set. 

Beyond having to twist plot and characters to get everything into that room, Donnellan has taken counter-intuitiveness as his keynote. Private scenes are played out in public, intimate moments have the actors at opposite ends of the wide stage, and characters are brought back from the dead to fill up the numbers for interpolated dance sequences. 

Some of this works. Forcing the sibling lovers to rush at each other from across the stage gives a sense of their uncontrollable passion, and the constant eavesdropping of 'offstage' but present actors underlines the plot need for secrecy and subterfuge. But the repeated use of the visible-through-a-door bathroom is just showing off, as are the bump-and-grind dance interludes and the male stripper.

In the midst of this are actors too often going their separate stylistic ways. Jack Gordon plays the brother Giovanni as a standard-issue poetic lover, a sub-Romeo that is more a literary construct than a real person, while Lydia Wilson's Anabella is a more natural modern teenager, so that sometimes they don't seem to be inhabiting the same world.

Jack Hawkins can't decide whether the cuckolded-in-advance husband is honourable or caddish (Ford makes him a bit of both, but it's the actor's and director's job to integrate the pieces, not alternate them.)

'Tis Pity is one of those plays better known to English professors than theatregoers, and this production, by stripping away all the peripherals, makes the central plot line clear. But by repeatedly being distracted from the message to the medium, it doesn't really plumb the psychological and moral depths. 

You'll follow the story, you may enjoy some of the directorial cleverness, but you won't be moved.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Tis Pity She's A Whore - Cheek By Jowl - Barbican 2012

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