Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore ****

'Tis Pity She's A Whore  Picture: Ellie Kurttz
'Tis Pity She's A Whore Picture: Ellie Kurttz
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At West Yorkshire Playhouse

SETTING aside the cachet of this being viewed as an edgy classic, John Ford’s tale of forbidden love isn’t the most consumable proposition.

Over two and a half hours of 17th century verse chronicling an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister isn’t likely to grab a novice audience.

But it’s an absolute rip-roarer, be in no doubt.

Director Jonathan Munby has taken what could have been a terribly worthy piece of writing, appealing only to elite theatregoers and English Lit students, and transformed it.

This new version of ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore heightens the undertones of gang warfare and sinister dealings, moulding them into a kind of Jacobean version of Goodfellas.

The play was always mooted as a mix of Romeo and Juliet and Reservoir Dogs. But the conclusion of Munby’s reworking is so barbaric it makes the bloody scene in Tarantino’s breakthrough movie, where Michael Madsen cuts off the ear of a kidnapped cop, look like someone nicked themselves shaving.

As for comparisons with Shakespeare’s story of an illicit affair, this is altogether more unseemly and exhilarating.

Sara Vickers is remarkably natural and enchanting as Annabella, and Rachel Lumberg as her guardian, deservedly gets the most laughs (yes, curiously there are quite a few laughs in here too).

A near show-stealing performance comes from Sally Dexter as widow Hippolita, a kind of Alexis Colby, consumed with bitterness after being shunned by Soranzo, who’s besotted with Annabella.

Michael Matus offers a little more light relief as comic character Bergetto, but as competent as Damien Molony is as Giovanni, the love-struck brother at the heart of the story, his delivery feels a little too smug.

No matter, the overall sweep of the production is spectacular. The set, lighting and sound effects are frequently dark and overbearing, offering continual reminders of the omnipresence of religion. At other moments the designers brilliantly recreate a contrasting backdrop of 1950s glamour.

This is quality theatre presented in an audacious format – with unshrinking scenes of sex and violence, it’s a gripping experience which will appeal to everyone bar the lily-livered.

Rod McPhee

Until May 28, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Hill, Leeds, 7.30pm, Thu mats 1.30pm, Sat mats 2pm. Tel: 0113 2137700. www.wyp.org.uk

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