Review: Tis Pity She’s a Whore, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe

Fiona Button as Annabella, Max Bennett as Giovanni. Photo Simon Kane

Fiona Button as Annabella, Max Bennett as Giovanni. Photo Simon Kane

Something happens twenty minutes into John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore, as performed at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse. Up until that point, I knew I was watching a hugely engaging production of a very fine play. Fluid, clear, intelligent. But at the beginning of the second act, in the scene where Giovanni and Annabella are in bed together, having made love for the first time, things are revealed for what they are. It’s not that the production changes gear, it is the audience catching up. The intense intimacy of falling in love ripples from stage to audience, tender, delicate, exposed to light – like camera film. Should we be here? Who is watching whom? And who is guilty of forbidden acts?

And then you get it. This production of Tis Pity She’s a Whore is going to be thrillingly hot. Not only in a high-minded way, or even in a carnal way – although both these are true – but forbidden, dangerous. The candlelight is fire and danger as much as it is shadows and trembling beauty. This is the achievement of Michael Longhurst’s production: without rewriting the play, he welds together themes of forbidden love with this cradle of a space, the breathing-fire quality of the text with feverish, sharp action. The result brims with exquisite life (and therefore death).

After that, everything falls into place and gains huge momentum. Max Bennett and Fiona Button, Giovanni and Annabella, brother and sister and lovers, fit perfectly and tenderly together, hands blindly seeking, breaths synching. It’s physics as much as anything else, bodies orbiting each other. Nature versus nature, sibling relationship versus cosmic powers. Continue reading

Review: John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe

duchess of malfi sam wanamaker playhouse posterWhat comes first, the play or the venue? John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, with Gemma Arterton in the lead, always had the making of a significant theatrical event, but as the first production in the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (the indoor jewel in the Globe’s crown), the focus is equally divided between play and theatrical space.

Let’s briefly talk about the venue: The excitement of the new indoor theatre – part of the original Globe vision and several years in the making – shivers in the air and the space is predictably beautiful but surprising in other ways. I was somewhat unprepared for how small it was. Even to my untrained eye, the architecture is recognisably that of an Elizabethan theatre but everything is scaled down. The feel is that of a dollhouse. Not unpleasant but definitely unusual.

As for Dominic Dromgoole’s production, it bristles with attention to detail Continue reading