‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore: provocative, incest-ridden and gore-filled

JASMINE WALTER is impressed by good direction and strong individual performances

ADC Cambridge University Gore Incest Svistunenko Tis Pity She's a Whore

Notorious for being one of the most provocative, incest-ridden, gore-filled Jacobean tragedies of its time, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore usually relies on the dark shadows of the candle lit Renaissance theatre to aid its bloody tale. 

But, under the artistic influence of director Laura Batey, as the audience entered, they were immediately immersed in the smoky, sultry world of a 1920s American speakeasy. The effect is utterly transformative – and from the opening moments, the audience are in for a tumultuous ride of unexpected twists and turns.

As Annabella, the eponymous protagonist, Julia Kass gave a stunning performance, falling on the ‘whore’ side of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. From the outset, she presents herself as brave and fearless, never intimidated by her role as a desired object to a string of potential suitors.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Tom Chamberlain was a convincing Giovanni, really representing the character’s passion-fuelled insanity, seen in his gradual degeneration from ardent lover to utter madness and delirium. The chemistry between the pair is as electrifying as it is disconcerting, and I found I had to consistently remind myself that what I was watching was not the flowering of a beautiful, legitimate affair but instead a twisted, tragically erotic escapade of two incestuous lovers.

Will Chappell is also worth a mention, playing the didactic Friar Bonaventura. His lines are slick and neatly delivered, with unexpected wit and humour. His sardonic quips are a moral aide-mémoire – although his lines were warmly received with generous laughter, it takes one a moment to reflect on his utterances before remembering the ethical wrongness of the situation.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Humour was an element that was strongly emphasised, despite the genre of the play being a far cry from comedic. Even though there were unsettling undertones throughout, the cast successfully delivered many lines with such flair and near-triviality that the audience almost couldn’t help themselves from laughing.

Inevitably, Jack Parham and Rose Reade as the comic duo Bergetto and Poggio, generated a lot of laughs with their wittily dispensed lines and the humorous dynamic generated between them. But it was the unexpectedly sharp lines and actions elsewhere that triggered shocked laughter – juxtaposed with truly horrendous gory scenes, I felt almost masochistic for laughing boldly just moments before.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

In terms of tech, the set design, lighting and costume all added an atmospheric layer to the production that did well to echo the era’s social and cultural dynamism. The costume, hair and make up fitted nicely with the thematic extravagance of the Roaring Twenties setting. With an open bar and live jazz band on-stage at all times, the enveloping smoke and atmospheric lighting added to the almost claustrophobic ambiance of Florio’s speakeasy.

However, the spotlight is – literally, and metaphorically – on the double bed that takes centre stage and is where the most pivotal scenes of the play occur. The general staging and central placement of the bed worked well, as it placed the illicit lovers in the womb of the action – surrounded but never explicitly seen by the scornful eyes of society.

Overall, it was a slick performance from start to finish. Good direction and strong individual performances from the cast meant that the production built progressively, and when it came to a climactic peak, the tension was almost too much to bear. The production was vibrant and exciting, throwing the audience from one visceral treat to another with unapologetic rigour.

From the hazy glamour of the speakeasy to the grotesque blood bath at the end, there is always something aesthetically exciting to feast your eyes on. Renaissance tragic dramas are not easy to portray convincingly, especially ones jam packed with incest and murder, but the cast were brilliant and pulled it off with ease. I would definitely recommend taking a few hours out of your evening to catch this production.

Just one final warning however: not one for the faint hearted…

70%, a first.