'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Tue 17th – Sat 21st February 2015


Ellie Bishop

at 00:13 on 18th Feb 2015



The body count of revenge tragedies often leaves audiences flummoxed and exhausted, and this production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ was no different. Yet the combination of catharsis, humour and the decision to set the Jacobean play in the 1920s ensured that the production was characterised by far more than just explicit gore, forcing us to look beneath John Ford’s melodramatic surface.

Choosing to set the play in the roaring twenties, far removed from its original seventeenth century context, was a striking decision and, to the credit of director Laura Batey, impressively added another dimension to a play which, otherwise, could seem dated. The backdrop of simultaneous glamour and corruption draws attention to the prophetic nature of the drama and highlights its enduring apocalyptic-style relevance. Yet, at times, the dialogue felt at odds with its surroundings – attempts at a Baz Lurhmann style ‘Romeo + Juliet’, retaining Jacobean language in a contemporary environment, did not always appear fitting, occasionally giving the play an aura of parody. Moments of awkward laughter from the audience demonstrated that they weren't quite sure how to perceive this– although the ambiguity often rendered the production more powerful.

Overall, the performances were strong, with all actors succeeding in bridging the difficult gap between realism and melodrama. The central damned lovers (Julia Kass and Tom Chamberlain) confidently carried the piece, whilst their mother Florio (Emma Blacklay-Piech) was particularly impressive in the final scenes, presenting us with an uncomfortable portrait of grief and hysteria that was, at times, almost too painful to watch. Other minor characters were also vital in creating a strong ensemble piece. Alice Carlill’s Putana excellently encapsulated the uncomfortable humour that revenge tragedy generates, whilst the comic pairing of Poggio and Bergetto (Rose Reade and Jack Parham) was a welcome addition to an extraordinarily dark play.

The onstage band and intercession of jazz pieces, sung excellently by various cast members, added a further fascinating layer to the production, in which the cast often seemed liked members of the audience – they were also there to be entertained, yet became worryingly vulnerable as the violence on stage increases. Credit must also be given to the fight choreographers (Robbie Taylor Hunt and Bea Svistunenko), as well as make-up and props, for their work was integral to maintaining the thin line between tragedy and parody; the huge use of blood often led to laughter which in turn forces us to question why we must transform this intense violence into comedy in our own interpretations.

Although elements of the setting were flawed, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ demonstrates the power of reinventing and updating older dramas through daring directorial decisions and an indisputably talented cast, proving that the play really is not one to be missed.


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