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: King Lear (starring Frank Langella) at the Minerva theatre, Chichester

King Lear Chichester posterLet’s start with a rhetorical question: Can you have too many King Lears? No matter what the answer, the productions will still come thick and fast. And even if you are tempted to say yes, you soon realise you are wrong. As with all Shakespeare, there is always room for more. The much-anticipated (not least by me) King Lear at the National is only a couple of months away, but first we have the Chichester Festival Theatre production directed by Angus Jackson. Presented at the Minerva theatre (the smaller more intimate space at Chichester), it has its own big name in the title role: Frank Langella is a heavyweight of american theatre and  well acquainted with London stage. The production will transfer to Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in 2014. In other words, it’s a King Lear that can’t be ignored.

And in many ways, it pays off. It’s clear, concise with strong imagery and drive. Set (by Robert Innes Hopkins) and lighting (by Peter Mumford) are magnificent: much of the light is filtered through asymmetrical columns at the back of the stage, the effect a backlit shadowy fog illuminating tragic souls. Continue reading