Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the Everyman

 September 21, 2010         Leave a comment

“Well, that was a laugh eh?” quipped the Culture Blog on the way out from ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the Everyman.

To say that the play ends with a bloody slaughter shouldn’t really surprise anyone after what unfolds over the course of the previous hour and a half, but the brutality of it certainly raised a few eyebrows.

I wasn’t familiar with the play, imagining some John Osborne slice of 50s realism, so didn’t anticipate the events that were to follow; namely incest, murder and revenge.

First impressions were excellent, though, with a small cast putting nary a foot wrong, especially Hugh Skinner as troubled protagonist Giovanni, Matti Houghton as his sister Annabella and Eileen O’Brien, with an initially amusing turn as the latter’s Guardian, Putana.

Kevin Harvey, first seen at the Everyman in a brilliant production of Yellowman years ago, also puts in an interesting performance as Friar Bonaventura, mentor and confidante to Giovanni.

Young, massively bearded and scouse, where Bonaventura appears to be a much older character, he makes an unlikely sight, but it’s strong and animated.

Similarly incongruous is Ken Bradshaw, with a strong Irish accent, as Vasquez, calculating manservant to the vengeful Soranzo. But that works too, to the extent that Vasquez ends up as one of the production’s more intriguing characters.

I won’t bother to explain the plot, with its twists and turns. Suffice to say, things don’t really end well for anyone concerned.

It’s really strong stuff, in several senses of the word and, I thought, somewhat ambiguous. What I took for some pointed comment on the hypocrisy of the characters’ skewed morals could be viewed as something rather more simple; the straight-up belief that the female characters, portrayed by most of the men as various shades of whores, harlots or out-and-out witches are just that.

For it’s not clear with whom the play’s moral centre, and where the sympathies of the author, reside. Giovanni, despite the carnage he’s responsible for, is shown as something of a Byronesque romantic; Vasquez, the closest thing to an out-and-out antagonist, seems almost ennobled by his part in the last act’s mayhem; it’s not clear if the Church is mocked for its twisted morals or elevated for them.

Because of that ambiguity there’s the suspicion of a hefty streak of misogyny running through Tis Pity She’s A Whore; and the grand guignol finale does little to suggest otherwise.

Still, I couldn’t fault the production, the cast of Everyman Family players, sets, music and direction were quite superb. But there’s a lot of nagging doubts as to the intention of the play, and of this production. To an extent, that makes it all the more powerful, but it also makes it all the more troubling on several levels.

Don’t take your Grandmother. Or, for that matter, your sister.

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