Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

'Tis Pity She's a Whore Presented by Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, November 2014

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

'Tis Pity She's a Whore Presented by Shakespeare's Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, November 2014

Article excerpt

Directed by: Michael Longhurst. With Max Bennett (Giovanni), Stefano Braschi (Soranzo), Fiona Button (Annabella), Sam Cox (Donado), Philip Cumbus (Vasquez), Noma Dumezweni (Hippolita), James Garnon (Bergetto / Cardinal), Michael Gould (Friar Bonaventura), Alice Haig (Philotis), Dean Nolan (Poggio), Edward Peel (Florio), Daniel Rabin (Richardetto), Morag Siller (Putana), Jethro Skinner (Grimaldi).

The opening, by the Shakespeare's Globe company, of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a reimagining of an early modern indoor theatre resembling the playhouses of Renaissance London, such as the Blackfriars and the Cockpit, has resulted in an increased interest in performing the works of early modern playwrights other than William Shakespeare. While Shakespearean productions in the Globe's main theatre have so far been kept separate from those of his contemporaries in the Wanamaker, the new theatre has had the positive effect of bringing the works of lesser-known Jacobean playwrights to light, and arguably provides the perfect setting for the grisly, dark, revenge tragedies of Jacobean tragedians such as John Webster and John Ford. Michael Longhurst's recent production of Ford's infamous play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore was no exception, and its themes of sex, violence, revenge and incest were greatly enhanced by this intimate, candlelit theatre.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse seats only 340 audience members in total, and its small size became an element that greatly increased the sense of a restrictive claustrophobic Parmesan society that is central to this play. This, combined with the classical Jacobean features and décor of the playhouse, certainly helped to transport the audience back in time, and made us feel as though we were witnessing something close to that of an early modern theatregoer's experience. Due to the close and intimate nature of the playhouse's design, I felt I could not escape the horrors that unfolded before me in the three hours of the production, and had no choice but to face the controversial issues and questions that the play deals with. Additionally, the element of shock and awe that Ford undoubtedly intended was not lost on a modern audience, due to our proximity to the action, which included vast amounts of blood, the presentation of a human heart, and the naked bodies of Annabella and Giovanni just inches from our faces.

Adding to the foreboding atmosphere and assisting in the generation of tension and fear was the wonderful and distinctive use of candlelight that features in every Sam Wanamaker Playhouse performance. In 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, the candles not only added something unique and nostalgic to the performance, but were also used effectively at several points to enhance the drama in specific scenes. For instance, during the scene in which Vasquez (Philip Cumbus) and Hippolita (Noma Dumezweni) plot against Soranzo (Stefano Braschi), Vasquez attempted to persuade Hippolita to control her 'female spleen'; as he did this, Cumbus held a candle up close to her face, drawing attention to their eyes as he gazed into hers, manipulating and charming her. Other more dramatic instances of effective lighting were seen during the scene in which Friar Bonaventura (Michael Gould) visits Annabella (Fiona Button) to warn her about the consequences of her actions and the horrors of hell that await her. During his speech, in which he described darkness and the extinguishing of the sun, the candles on stage were slowly extinguished, one by one, and it grew increasingly dark as his speech continued, highlighting the darkness that Annabella would be subject to if she refused to repent, and also perhaps representing the extinguishing of Annabella's desire towards Giovanni, the very thing that the Friar encourages.

Furthermore, the lack of candlelight due to the quenching of the candles in this scene was used most effectively in the following scene in which Bergetto (James Garnon) was stabbed by Grimaldi (Jethro Skinner) in complete darkness. …

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