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‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

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The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse again comes into its own with John Ford’s brooding, blood-washed tale of incest from the 1630s to open its second season.

The candlelit interior throws John Ford’s minor classic into a whole new light. Literally. Because you feel that at last the dark, taut poetry of a story of sibling incest is shown as it was meant to be seen.

Max Bennett brings great passion as well as film star good looks to his Giovanni and he and Fiona Button’s Annabella convey both genuine love and the sheer, unstoppability of their carnal desires. It is a very sexy production whose posters, incidentally, proved too racy for Transport for London.

But the inescapable contemporary morality brings everything crashing down. Ford’s writing is laden with bitter irony and is remorselessly moral and cruelly condemning at times. But his virtue – and the reason we still produce this play – is that his understanding and compassion is just as palpable. Vasquez a commendably creepy, nasty performance from Philip Cumbus may be the classic revenge agent, who brings about the destruction of the illicit liaison, but we still root for Giovanni and Annabella’s revenge on convention and their God.

James Garnon was a sweetly idiotic Bergetto and I also liked the older figures, Edward Peel’s Florio the ignorant father who eventually has to face his worse nightmare and Sam Cox’s Donado. All three remind the audience of the domestic warmth lurking inside a tale which as at once both wildly sensational, yet also oddly tender and human.

  • Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
  • October 23-December 7, PN October 28
  • Author: John Ford
  • Director: Michael Longhurst
  • Design: Alex Lowde set, Jemima Penny costume, Tony Forrester candlelit playhouse technician, Simon Slater composer
  • Technical: Wills production manager, Marion Marrs company manager Ralph Buchanan stage manager
  • Cast includes: Max Bennett, Fiona Button, Michael Gould, Philip Cumbus, Stefano Braschi, Morag Siller
  • Producer: Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Running time: 3hrs
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The Stage
The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.
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