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‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore review at Barbican Silk Street London February 16-March 10

A young woman’s bed, crimson-sheeted, sits in the centre of the stage. Above it designer Nick Ormerod has hung a True Blood poster, which is fitting because, by the time the play is through, there will be blood – and lots of it.

Though John Ford’s Jacobean tragedy takes incest as its central theme it is essentially concerned with corruption and downfall, one woman’s undoing. Declan Donnellan’s pulsing production for Cheek by Jowl gives a fresh, contemporary edge to this rather gruesome play. The set is decked out in black and red against which bare flesh shimmers. Music throbs in the background and the pacing is energetic, aggressively so. In more ways than one it recalls Joe Hill-Gibbins’ current, startling production of The Changeling at the Young Vic – both contain unsettling wedding sequences in which all parties are in some way tainted – though it doesn’t quite reach the same level of operatic excess.

Donnellan rattles through the text in just two hours, cranking up the tension as he builds to his big, messy finish, the human body made meat and splattered up the white tiled walls.

The performances are well-pitched throughout. Lydia Wilson’s tattooed, punky Annabella is neither “wretched” nor “woeful”. She hovers on the cusp of womanhood, physically delicate yet sexually confident, surrounded by a sea of hungry men – in recurring fantasy tableaux she is cast as both virgin and whore. Jack Gordon is intense yet tender as her brother-lover, Giovanni. Laurence Spellman is fittingly creepy yet not without charm as the malevolent manservant Vasques and Suzanne Burden brings real, mascara-streaked pathos to the role of the ageing widow Hippolita.

Production Information

Barbican Silk Street, London, February 16-March 10, Author: John Ford

Director
Declan Donnellan
Producer
Cheek by Jowl
Cast includes
Lydia Wilson, Suzanne Burden, Jack Gordon, Jack Hawkins, Lizzie Hopley, Laurence Spellman
Running Time
2hrs

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