views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Tis A Pity She's A Whore
Tristan Bates Theatre
25th August 2016

★★★★☆

Prince Plockey and Lucy Walker-Evans as Giovanni and Annabella

Photography © Adam Trigg

Most people associate bunting and party hats with rather tame, quintessentially English street parties and, well, happy times. Me? Bloody carnage. Think Troilus and Cressida, The Spanish Tragedy, Tis Pity She's A Whore... I stand by my previous assertion: there ain't no party like a Lazarus party. Big, bold and mesmerising, this company simply doesn't do low key. Their adaptation of John Ford's Tis Pity She's A Whore is yet another classical text that they've taken and staged for a modern audience with different tastes, finding that complex balance between respectful and fresh.

Lazarus stalwart Prince Plockey stars as doomed lover Giovanni, who falls in love with his sister, Annabella (Lucy Walker-Evans). As always, the company's policy of colourblind casting results in an electric and credible choice of leads. Plockey's whole body shakes with giddiness at Giovanni's confessions of love being received positively and Walker-Evans' tender glances and delicately nuanced performance mirror those expressions of desire. Some may question the logic in casting two people as siblings who let's face it, don't look anything like each other, but I firmly believe there aren't many classical parts Plockey can't pull off, and Walker-Evans is similarly a fantastic fit for this play.

With her father Florio (Alexander Allin) lining up suitors and Annabella forced to find a husband to conceal her inevitable pregnancy, she goes for the least offensive option, being Soranzo (Alexander Shenton). Giovanni's disapproving confidante and mentor, Friar Bonaventura (Edward Boon) counsels Annabella that this is the best solution for everyone, however Soranzo unsurprisingly is more than a little angry when he finds out his virgin bride is up the duff and won't tell him who the daddy is. Do you see a happy ending on the cards? Me neither.

In adapting Tis Pity for a 90-minute running time, director Ricky Dukes has had to sacrifice the detail of some of the more complicated and interesting subplots and as much as I do like the actors who play these minor roles, I wonder whether he might have been better off cutting these strands of the story completely just for clarity. Whilst Richardetto (Nick Biadon) pretending to be a doctor results in some strikingly bizarre scenes which are in keeping with the production's overall finish, I'm not sure how many people will have fully realised his connection to his wife Hippolita (Sasha Wilson) and her former lover Soranzo. Richardetto's niece Philotis (Valerie Isaiah) is similarly consigned to be a part of the ensemble noise. Although the focus is quite rightly on the incestuous relationship between Annabella and Giovanni, there are other parts of the story which Dukes could bring out more.

The ensemble of Tis Pity She's A Whore

Photography © Adam Trigg

Given the violence of the text, I was surprised by just how clean the scenes were involving Vasques (Stephen MacNeice) and Putana (Steph Reynolds). Similarly, I expected the conclusion to be more bloody. I had visions of Plockey in the company's previous production of Coriolanus standing in the middle of a bloodstained set and this disappointingly wasn't repeated here. Tis Pity is the unsettling story of a forbidden love and in this version, it doesn't quite have the "ick" factor it should. Gore is always helpful in ramping up the queasiness.

As well as cutting back on blood and guts, Dukes dials down the smoke for this production, with the gentlest of trickles that create some strong visuals without overwhelming the overall look. Bravo. It's the perfect balance. I'm not completely sold on the layout with stage seating in the space of the Tristan Bates and think this would work better set in traverse in a broader venue. I do like Sorcha Corcoran's simple set though, which essentially is based around a long, thin banqueting table with grandiose candlesticks, as well as Isobel Pellow's eye-catching costume choices. Given Bergetto (Luke Dunford) is a bit of an idiot, dressing his aunt Donado (RJ Seeley) in a purple skirt suit with masculine 1980s pointed shoulders underlines the balance of power and intelligence in their relationship. Putting Putana in red is obvious, yet pleasing.

The use of sunglasses rather than sending the actors off-stage between their scenes also really appeals to me. If there's one thing Dukes always gets spot on without fail, it's his eye for ensemble movement. Keeping the bodies around and using shades to transform the actors from their characters into a rather more fluid tool for Dukes to play around with is inspired. There's always something inherently recognisable about a Lazarus ensemble shimmying around a set in time to a modern electronic dance soundscape, this time by Chris Drohan. By the end of the play, Parma becomes one big, deliciously confused mess of people and colours, thanks to Dukes' control of the ensemble and Jai Morjaria's vibrant, atmospheric lighting. The way it's all framed is stunning.

Tis Pity is a highly stylised adaptation of a controversial text that loses some of the original discomfort and impact along the way. It doesn't have quite the same edge as some of Lazarus' previous work, but it is nonetheless a very memorable piece and one which I would thoroughly recommend. Parma has never been so intriguing.

Tis Pity ran from 23rd to 27th August at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe and continues until 10th September 2016.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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