‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore

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‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is brimming with sexual violence: the dominance of men over women. The play charts the story of Giovanni’s incestuous lust-fuelled seduction of his sister Annabella and her subsequent marriage. Using techniques such as televised porn, director Sam Pritchard has tried to move the Jacobean play into the modern day, and updated it to reflect our society’s ongoing obsession with sex and scandal.Set in an upper- middle class household, the play aims to confront society’s view of women as sex objects. On stage, in the action, it succeeds. Matt Orton’s Giovanni is electrifying. His passion, rage and sexual energy is revealed as much by the intensity of his silences as by the intense violence in grasping his sister’s face in his hands and growling the declaration of his perverse love. Annabella, played by Charlotte Bayley, is the perfect portrait of a woman whose dignity, as well as her body, has been defiled by her brother’s sexual aggression. She seems to give herself willingly to him, but her tremor of fear as Giovanni touches her reveals her terror, a terror as much at her own submission as at her brother’s assault. The directing is at its best here too; Pritchard lets us dwell on Annabella, alone in her bed, her face buried in her hands, her body racked by sobs. The aftermath is revealed to be as important as the act.With this sensitivity revealed in the acting itself, the flashes of pornography that bridge the scenes are strikingly gratuitous. It is almost as if the director fears that we won’t understand the play’s point. Yet making it explicit in the grainy shots of sex acts detracts and distracts. Also bizarre was the decision to make the sinister Friar into a religious talk- show host. It detracted from the power of the play, and skewed the focus of criticism. Is the play attacking the moral hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, or of chatshow hosts? Either is a fair target, but by conflating the two, the concentration is lost, and the intensity blurred.The acting remains top-notch though. Will Cudmore puts in a fantastic, sinuous, dangerous performance as Vasques, and Charlotte Norris’ Putana reveals that woman’s complicity in sexual violence is just as demeaning as man’s sexual aggression. ‘Tis pity that the production sometimes submits to the desire to shock the audience – not just that she’s a whore.By Timothy Sherwin

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