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Intense and fascinating: Lazarus Theatre’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Lucy Walker Evans and Prince Plockey
Lucy Walker Evans and Prince Plockey – Photo by Adam Trigg

I am not entirely sure why the Lazarus Theatre Company had their “social media campaign terminated at the last minute” (as per the show’s programme), aside from the alleged “offensive nature” of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore. This is a play, after all, that was good enough to be staged at the National Theatre in 1988 and the Young Vic in 1999, the latter production starring Eve Best as Annabella and Jude Law as Giovanni. I deal briefly with the controversy, and only briefly, as this production’s adaptation of the play, as it so happens, chooses to emphasise some of the play’s other themes, not as a response to the apparent online backlash against the company, but simply because the opportunity to look at love and society was seized upon.

The colour-blind casting arrangements assist in creating a distancing effect away from what is, in a word, incest, between Annabella (Lucy Walker-Evans) and Giovanni (Prince Plockey). This production does not seek to demonstrate any sexual activity; this does not mean the show is family viewing. The demonstration at the start of a generally decadent Parma gives the impression that anything is possible and anything could happen, and the way in which the pair’s relationship is portrayed and developed makes their fornication somewhat less shocking. In the end, however, pressure from society at large means that not only their relationship but their lives cannot continue. This play is more widely classified as a tragedy than anything else, and I am satisfied the final scenes have Annabella and Giovanni punished by a far greater penalty that could ever be imposed by a conviction under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Speaking of more contemporary times, this production has been re-set to a more modern era than the seventeenth-century Parma of the original play. The choice of accompanying music would not be out of place on the radio, or at least the sort of radio I happened to be listening to in an air conditioned minicab home on a hot and humid evening after seeing a show (ahem). In combining the five acts of the play into a single 90-minute, interval-less act, the show comes across as economical – without, I hasten to add, being rushed – and efficient. Miscellaneous stage directions in the original play to ‘exeunt’ are blithely ignored as multiple characters remain on stage, even if on the sidelines, achieving very rapid scene changes. Elsewhere, the overuse of slow motion movement left me stifling laughter: theatre companies really must not be so insistent on ‘slow-mo’ in every show.

Sightlines are not always perfect, particularly in the large ensemble scenes, where up to a dozen actors are crowding the Tristan Bates Theatre’s stage space, in this production made significantly smaller than usual thanks to the inclusion of at least two extra rows of seating. Jai Morjaria’s lighting design is perfect for the production, subtly guiding the audience’s attention to certain characters in certain parts of the stage as the show progresses. The production is well-cast, too, with characters rather dull when they are meant to be rather dull, passionate when the occasion calls for it, and so on. Luke Dunford’s Bergetto provides most of the show’s comic relief, including a jovial breaching of the fourth wall, made all the more entertaining at the performance I attended by an obliging audience member who responded in kind.

The production as a whole undoubtedly works. Much if not all of the dialogue from the very final scene is excised, but in a stunning choreography set to yet more party / nightclub music, the events in that final scene are still all played out. Reading the final scene’s dialogue afterwards, it was a delightful surprise to see nothing salient was missed. It was refreshingly easy to follow what was going on throughout. I think it’s wonderful that such contentious issues that provoke debate even today continue to be showcased on the London stage. An intense and fascinating production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Ferocious, murderous and bloody. Love will not conquer all. Love will destroy all.
John Ford’s masterpiece follows two young lovers, Annabella and Giovanni, caught in the grip of sexual adventure and discovery. But their love is damned and their sex is a sin; they are Brother and Sister. When the siblings’ love is discovered – their world is changed forever.

This startlingly, provocative play comes to the stage in an all-new, ravishingly decedent, ensemble production. ‘Tis Pity, marks our return to The Tristan Bates Theatre after our sell out productions of Tamburlaine in 2015 and Coriolanus / Troilus and Cressida in 2014.
http://www.lazarustheatrecompany.com/

Cast:
Annabella – Lucy Walker-Evans
Giovanni – Prince Plockey
Bonaventura / Cardinal – Edward Boon
Soranzo – Alexander Shenton
Florio – Alexander Allin
Donado – RJ Seeley
Bergetto – Luke Dunford
Richardetto – Nick Biadon
Vasques – Stephen MacNeice
Hippolita – Sasha Wilson
Philotis – Valerie Isaiah
Putana – Steph Reynolds

Creative:
Written by John Ford
Adapted and Directed by Ricky Dukes
Designed by Sorcha Corcoran
Costume Design by Isobel Pellow
Lighting Design by Jai Morjaria
Sound Design by Chris Drohan
Fight Direction by Jonathan Holby
Dramaturge – Sara Reimers
Associate Director – Gavin Harrington-Odedra
Assistant Director – Grace Joseph
Stage Manager – Jodie Day
Company Manager – Ina Berggren
Company Photographer – Adam Trigg
Production Graphic Designer – Will Beeston

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
John Ford
23rd August – 10th September 2016
The Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden
WC2H 9NP
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

“This production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is recommended for audience member of the age of 12 and upwards. It contains scenes of a violent and sexual nature.”

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