Cheek by Jowl’s production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the Theatre Royal Nottingham

As a student who adores John Ford’s revenge-tragedy, Cheek by Jowl’s announcement that their production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore would grace the Theatre Royal Nottingham’s stage left me fit to burst. Not just burst, however, but explode spectacularly, scattering mutilated body parts near and far, painting the floors red in extraordinary excitement.

Okay, this is an exaggeration. But I anticipated that Declan Donnellan would pull off the sensational blood-ridden plot well, and suitably purchased front row seats so I could examine every step taken, every expression given and every line spoken.

The play centres on the incestuous relationship of Giovanni and Annabella, siblings whose passion leaves the sister pregnant, forcing her to marry Soranzo. His previous lover is on a mission to kill Soranzo himself, whilst Annabella’s bawdy version of Shakespeare’s nurse in Romeo and Juliet falls into the trap and is brutally murdered. On the discovery of their relationship, Annabella’s cuckolded husband seeks vengeance and a bloody celebration closes the two-hour thrill of satirical, shocking and violent creation.

The set was fantastic. Talk about symbolism – red walls, red bed, red lamp…If ever I saw foreshadowing of a gory bloodbath, this was it. The double bed residing in the centre was a fantastic piece of staging; not only is the bed the cradle of the controversy and reason for vengeance in the play, but it was a major focus for the entire cast in this production. The actors and actresses danced upon it, hid behind it, lay in front of it and fondled within it, and not once was this seen as gimmicky or a distraction from other characters’ actions on other parts of the stage. For example, the first thing we see is the lean Annabella (Gina Bramhill) lying on the bed, listening to her iPod, wearing a skimpy strap top and plain black leggings – a ‘typical’ adolescent? What shortly follows did, I admit, unnerve me slightly. The entire troupe (including the Friar) enters doing a kind of Irish-folk-cowboy-jive to a high-energy, base-heavy soundtrack, courtesy of Nick Powell.

However, my nerves were calmed within the first few lines spoken; Giovanni (Orlando James) gave a splendid performance from the word ‘go’ which encompassed all of the personality traits I gave to my Giovanni in my (countless) essays on the play. James’ Giovanni was confused, passionate, rational, jealous, romantic and obsessive all at the same time, and the delivery of the lines was exquisite. Bramhill’s Annabella, for me, could have been more striking, and I didn’t empathise with her as much as I would have liked, but this by no means hindered the play’s capacity to bewilder, yet satisfy the audience. In the murder scene, however, I would have appreciated it if Donnellan had suggested Annabella wear a strap on baby bump, so the true force of Giovanni’s murder (and therefore infanticide) was made more prominent to the audience. Perhaps, though, this is my warped mind being far too macabre and seeking something which may just be taking it too far… 

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