Tag Archives: Flow Studios

Tis a Pity She’s A Whore

8 Nov

This is big, bold and bloody. (FYI one of those thanked on the program is a butcher.)

John Ford’s tragedy was written sometime in the 1620’s and initially enjoyed popularity. However, it dropped out of favour for several hundred years, and has only being revived since the 20th Century. It’s an absolutely terrific play, but its presentation of incest has discomforted many audiences.

Some critics have claimed it virtually condones the act, but you only have to do a body count to appreciate that Ford believed that such behaviour might end rather messily.

The taboo against incest is almost universal (though some of the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs gave it red hot go.) It’s a curious prohibition; if it’s between consenting adults (as it is in this play) and if there is no chance of conception (not as it is in this play) it can be difficult to explain exactly why we find it problematic. The more ethically adventurous might question if it actually is – though seeing this production, and realising that the act involves the incestuous lovers sharing a raw egg, its repulsiveness becomes plain. Excluding that odd touch, and some rather patchy lighting, this is a thoroughly thrilling production.

Flow Studios, with its clear playing space, balcony and simple décor featuring exposed wood, almost evokes a Jacobean or Caroline theatre. Director Harry Reid uses the space beautifully and elicits from his cast high-energy performances and a glorious commitment to the bloodiness. 

The lovers are brother and sister, and the actors deserve respect for taking on such confrontational roles. But it’s not just about shock; the siblings are performed with a fascinating richness.  Bayley Prendergast’s Giovanni is a single-minded selfish school boy academic, not above lying to his sister, clever but not wise. (You could argue he lacks even common sense; bed a healthy young woman without using effective contraception and the consequences are both damnable and predictable.) Olivia Hall-Smith’s Annabelle is less bull-headed than her brother, and so is buffeted by storms that appear only partly of her making. She’s giddily delighted when a secret desire is miraculously fulfilled, and terrified of hell fire and fearful for her life when the balloon bursts.

Annabella’s maid, Putana, is a descendant of Juliet’s nurse – vulgar and dispensing terrible advice – and Claudia Schnier wonderfully captures the character’s earthiness and glib devotion to hedonism. Putana’s turning of a blind eye to the potential consequences of her mistress’ actions gives her ultimate fate a horrific aptness.

Isabella Williams as Hippolito, a lover scorned, is powerfully waspish, and her masqued dance is a highlight, an extraordinary piece of movement.

Vasquez, the servant of Soranzo, who Annabella eventually marries, is a creation indicative of Ford’s genius, and Clay Crighton plays all the twists and turns of the character with consummate skill.  Utterly unscrupulous, Vasquez is in the tradition of the Machiavellian villain, a distant cousin of Iago – but what makes him so fascinating is that his apparent amorality is not driven by self-interest but rather by devotion to his master. In a play in which the focus is often perceived as the giving in to desire, it’s a thought-provoking subversion, an exciting addition to this beautiful, blood-splattered journey into the dark chambers of the human heart.

Paul Gilchrist

Tis a Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford

Flow Studios until 13 Nov