Tag Archives: Jacobean

“‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore” by John Ford

at Warwick Arts Centre, Thursday 2nd February 2012

It’t not difficult to see why John Ford’s’Tis Poty She’s a Whoreis studied as a key text at secondary schools; the inherant sexuality and dynamism of the play can be just the right thing to introduce tennagers to Jacobean tragedy. When looked at closely, however, it’s not that good a play. The verse is not nearly on par with Ford’s contemporaries, there is very little by the way of actual plot and decent motivations for the characters is all but absent. Cheek By Jowl’s new production, however, directed by Declan Donnellan, injects some pace, energy and style into the piece and shows we still haven’t won the fight against patriarchy.

Cleverly, all the action takes place on and around a central bed, utterly changing the meaning behind the relationship of Annabella and Giovanni. Rather than necessarily looking for one another, it is the bed which unites them, drawing them towards sexual union as they lust after their past and come to a realisation about their feelings. Annabella rarely leaves the stage (and by extension the bed), bolstering the idea that the men around her only view her as a sexual or vulnerable being.

Donnellan’s production doesn’t shy away from the violence in the latter half of the play, and there is no shortage of blood, but it is also aware how farcical Ford’s text is. Whilst the blood never seems ridiculousness, there is the clear idea everything is done with a tongue in the cheek. Nick Ormerod’s detailed set brings in images of Christ, vampires and sex bathed in blood red and imperceptibly heightened to draw out the brutality and theatricality of the play.

Some superb performances give the verse weight, not least Suzanna Burden’s vile Hippolita (which verges exquisitely on the pantomime) and Jack Hawkins’ subtly misogynistic Soranzo. Laurence Spellman’s Vasques and Lizzie Hopley’s Putana provide some welcome comedy and humanity over the show’s two hours, even though their fate is just as doomed as everyone else’s. Lydia Wilson, however, it utterly enchanting as Annabella, and steals the show, managing to portray innocence and experience in equal measure and ensuring every audience member is seduced. Some captivating hand gestures, reminiscent of sign-language and co-ordinated by Jane Gibson’s movement direction, add to her helplessness and create an extra layer of meaning.

Some smooth movement work is complemented by Nick Powell’s youthful music and lit with panache by Judith Greenwood. Donnellan makes sure we never know what to think about this play; it is both dark and comic, serious and ridiculous. It’s certain, however, that the stifling male world Annabella lives in is one not much different from our own, and that if we continue as we are, things could get rather bloody indeed.

“A Woman Killed With Kindness” by Thomas Heywood

at the Lyttelton Theatre, Tuesday 12th July 2011

***The performance reviewed was a first preview***

There are some great Jacobean masterpieces. The works of Middleton, Fletcher and Jonson are often counted as some of the best in the English canon. The works of Thomas Heywood appear a little further down the list, with A Woman Killed With Kindness (1603) generally considered to be his best play. Katie Mitchell’s 1919 production at the National Theatre, however, doesn’t do much to support this claim; it is incorerant, bizarre and, most dreadful of all, dull.

The audience gasps as the curtain is raised; a grandiose set greets us, designed by Lizzie Clachan and Vicki Mortimer. On each side of the stage is a different house. One, belonging to Sir Charles Mountford (Leo Bill) is grand and ageing, the other, owned by John Frankford (Paul Ready) is modern and clean. Within each household, a tragedy unfolds. The Mountfords face debt following Charles’ arrest while John Frankford discovers his wife is being unfaithful. The women of each household – Susan and Anne respectively – bear the brunt of the anger in this patriarchal world.

Some of what Katie Mitchell does is interesting. The time period works well, as do the scene changing sequences, which see servants changing furniture and slow-motion actions to represent the sweep of time. But while scene changes are important to a production, they should never end up being the focal point of interest. The pace is slow and confused and the split-screen staging means we never know what or who to watch.

Even for a first preview, the performances leave much to be desired. Liz White as Anne, who so impressed in Spring Storm, proves she can’t speak verse, foregoing either emotion or clarity when she tries hard to focus on one. Sandy McDade’s Susan is brash, but her eyes keep darting out to the audience, forcing us to ask whether or not she’s really paying attention. Leo Bill is more interesting to watch, even though he fails to inject a clear journey into his character, and Paul Ready’s decision to send his wife away doesn’t compute. Sebastian Armesto as the adulterer Wendoll shines among this vast ensemble, even if Heywood fails to explain why Anne goes to him in the first place.

This is a deeply flawed production of a perplexing play. No amount of carefully choreographed movement by Joseph Alford or well orchestrated piano sound by Gareth Fry can save the fact that, particularly without an interval, this play drags on for longer than it should with little in the form of plot. I sincerely hope this production improves over the preview period, for there are some interesting ideas here which deserve a better platform. Until then, however, the title An Audience Killed With Blandness may be more apt.