Terry Lee enjoyed the Fringe performance of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ from St Andrews group Wanton Theatre, but speculates on the play’s diminishing impact in the modern age (or lack of!).


 

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, performed by Wanton Theater, is a bold rendition of the controversial Jacobian play. It tells the tragic tale of Giovanni and Annabella, brothers and sisters who have come to love each other intensely. This love is consummated early on in the play, with the subsequent narrative following the consequences of breaking these taboos. The fundamental controversy of this play lies not only in its portrayal of incest but in presenting this love as pure in comparison to sinful murder and lust within the court.

In some ways, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is a perfect parody of Romeo and Juliet: the concept of consummate love without regards to consequences is accentuated here more so than in the Shakespearean Classic. As an audience, this tarnished love is much harder to justify due to its incestuous nature. However, the play fails to condemn the noble Giovanni and Annabella beyond the assurance of certain doom. As a result, Harry Ford’s ambitious play can only become grossly divisive for even a modern audience, let alone the much more morally stringent generations of the past. As a result, it has only been since the 20th century that this intriguing play has seen a wider discourse within the scholarly and theatrical community. One could say that both the audience and the production are blessed to witness this controversial play in the 21st century.

Wanton Theater has made a worthwhile risk of embarking on such an ambitious venture and the group should be credited on this alone. The entire cast fulfil their roles with perfection of style and rawness of emotion which one has come to expect from the thespians of St. Andrews. The choice of costume, though minimalistic, accentuates upon this undeniable talent. From the emotional versatility of Noah Liebmiller as the Friar, Louis Catliff’s act as the unashamed yet noble Giovanni, and Hannah Raymond-Cox’s vengeful Hippolita, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is a spectacle in itself, blessed by a talented cast.

With this said, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore suffers from numerous flaws. These are partially due to cuts made in the script to form an imperfect narrative, but substantially due to the unwillingness of the production to delve into the repercussions of the acts that transpire. No matter how horrific an act of transgression may be, it loses its impact if performed with an overt swiftness. Instead, the greatest examples come from anticipation with a slow unraveling and tearing of moral boundaries, a notion which has been insufficiently and infrequently executed here. One could argue that this fault lies mostly in the narrative structure of the script which puts more emphasis on the aftermath of the main transgression than the prelude. This issue is only accentuated by the fact that not enough of a focus is given to the other misdeeds that occur around Giovanni and Annabella. It is, of course, true that the main point of controversy comes from the incestuous love of these siblings. However, without giving enough of a focus to Puttana (Isabella Duff), a key player in this tragedy, as well as leaving out the lesser acts of violence from the original script, the production misses the fundamental details that lure the audience into believing the relationship between Giovanni and Annabella to be pure in comparison.

The unfortunate truth of the matter (however subjective it may be) is that the controversial themes of the play such as nudity, perversion of perspective and of course incest, have already found a place in the common discourse of today. For instance, we see Humbert Humbert pervert the readers’ sense of reality and perception through his seductions in Lolita. The Lannisters in Game of Thrones have become infamous in mass media as a house of vile, incestuous noblemen, and no words need to be spoken for the sheer commonness of nudity in the theatrical and cinematic medium of the modern day. The audience, having been spoilt by such visual excesses, may not discover enough cause to see this play as the shameful controversy it once was. Does this mean that our society has become desensitised and needs more to evoke the shock that met ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore’s original rendition in 1629? Perhaps.

It is also true that, in not being completely true to the script, the play’s lack of absolute controversy cannot be justified by a strict adherence to tradition. What the production represents then is the tragedy of the play’s unrealized potential to shock and abhor an audience in the modern day. Still, in terms of raw theatrics, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is guaranteed to please.

 

Terry Lee

The play is running until 20th Aug at Paradise at St Augustines (Venue 152). It begins at 23:15 and lasts approximately 1 hour 20 minutes.