’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE Wanamaker, Shakespeare’s Globe SE1

DARKNESS VISIBLE:  CANDLELIT HORRORS, ANCIENT SORROWS

 

 

By the end of three hours the gilt-reflecting candlelight of this little jewel-box playhouse is flickering over a birthday party littered with bloodstained corpses. Father, son, bridegroom – plus the offstage corpse whose heart has been waved around on a sword like a kebab. And that’s not counting the one murdered an hour earlier in a terrifying total blackout, his death agonies revealed by dark-lantern. Or the plotter who died a slow, agonizing and eloquent death by her own potion. The robed Cardinal, meanwhile, being Italian Catholic and therefore a convenient satirical villain for post-Reformation England, winds up the play speaking the words of the title and coolly ordering that the matter be hushed up (by sending another victim to be “burnt to ashes”) and confiscating that the dead family’s riches for the Church.

 

 

None of these magnificent disasters, however, are the reason John Ford’s dark drama spent a couple of centuries pretty much unperformed. Its real scandal (nicely emphasised this week by Transport for London banning the poster) is sexual. The tragedy is triggered by the incestuous love of Giovanni (Max Bennett, carrying it through convincingly from touchingly young and ardent to deranged) and his sister Annabella (Fiona Button gives her a spirited beauty and startlingly contemporary assertiveness).

 
That this will lead to disaster is clear from the first tense scene in which Giovanni confesses his desires to the Friar with “It is my fate that leads me on” and then lies to his sister – who is equally inclined – that he “asked counsel of the Holy Church” and got permission. And so, with tumbling naked grace, to bed. While other suitors and side-plotters pursue their ends the knotty text – beautifully handled with clarity and pace under director Michael Longhurst – is studded with fascinating philosophical efforts to justify this incest. Though more endearing is from Morag Siller, a delight as the bawdily robust maid Putana: “If a young wench feel the fit upon her, let her take anybody!”.

 

 
Indeed an admirable pleasure of this production is in its balancing of violence, darkness and horror with earthy comic absurdity. One of the most striking performances is from James Garnon – lately brilliant in the big Globe as Dr Scroggy – who plays an idiotic lad forced by his rich uncle to try for Annabella’s hand. He delivers it as Tim-nice-but-dim crossed with a less bright Boris Johnson: larky and tactless and hilarious until the extraordinarily touching moment when he falls in love with another girl entirely with a burstingly boyish “Lass, pretty lass, come!”. Yet this lovely bearer of comic relief is doomed too: murdered by mistake. The ultimate engine of his destruction, and of much else, is a slighted hellcat Hippolyta, given a terrifying energy (and some good rude twerking in disguise) by Noma Dumezweni.

 

 

The production is particularly fine when you consider how complicated and treble-stranded Ford’s plot is: newcomers, do not read the synopsis, it’ll only scare you. Onstage there is absolute clarity and accessibility not only in the speech, but in Alex Lowde’s skilful use of costume: tweakingly updated and carefully distinctive to character, whether Giovanni’s student-casual tights, Annabella’s anachronistically wispy dresses, or the slyly absurd, ultimately horrifying presence of gold party hats at the disastrous final banquet.

 

 

And there is the candlelight. I am a pushover for the Wanamaker’s rising and falling beeswax candelabras, the handheld candles throwing alarming shadows, and the ritual gradual dowsings. When the Friar describes hellfire to a desperate Annabella, around them like her hopes the flames die out one by one at the hands of dark servants. Brrrr.

 

Box office 020 7401 9919 to 7 Dec

rating: five  5 Meece Rating

Advertisements

Comments Off on ’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE Wanamaker, Shakespeare’s Globe SE1

Filed under Five Mice

Comments are closed.