Arts

Tis Pity She’s a Whore @ Theatre Royal

It was my first experience of Cheek by Jowl theatre group and I was a sworn follower ten minutes in. The dynamic energy and throbbing sensual performers took the stage by storm in this gripping adaption of the 17th Century classic. The bonds within the cast were clearly apparent and they moved seamlessly as a whole eternity, choral movement combined with dance, to give us an experience of the play not simply a mere rendition. This is a performance which will influence young practitioners and theatre fanatics alike.  

The play gives us two unexpected lovers – a brother and sister. This issue is not under common discussion in popular culture today however what has become increasingly common is a recognition of sexual taboos; the forbidden as the erotic.

We entered the auditorium to a red bedroom painted across the set, a chest of draws and wardrobe with bras and knickers artfully lolling over the sides, and a double bed which draws our eyes and becomes a central point of focus for the eternity of the play – sexual fantasies are what drive these characters, their secret eroticisms fuel their motivations and their downfalls. Posters ranged across the back flat – film posters with a dominant sexuality and gothic fiction, True Blood, and evocative artwork. Yet, as students, we recognised this bedroom, these posters, as are own: were they suggesting we are like Annabella? Obsessed with taboo sexuality and sexual dominance?

The stage was rarely empty, the ensemble create a chorus watching the private struggles of each individual – like an ever judging jury. The pace never faulted, finely balancing the larger ensemble scenes, the more intimate dialogues and the surfacing of highly comic moments – which the audience, however, seemed reluctant or shy to vocally appreciate. These moments should have been better appreciated and this perhaps raises an issue of taste – the performance was best tailored for a younger audience. There was a high level of nudity which other members of the audience may have found excess, when I found it necessary to bring the sensual reality of the characters to life.

The first group dance was perhaps the weakest. Although it was a successful bang to open the play with, my dissatisfaction was torn between the feeling that several of the actors did not move like dancers and that the chorography was too basic. However, the company’s skills in chorography and their ability to fully execute it were soon repaired in the excellent fight between Grimaldo (Philip Cairns) and Vasques (Laurence Spellman) soon after.

Every performer brought their role superbly to life. Orlando James (Giovanni) gave his soliloquies with a detailed excellence, expressing the words, rather than simply recalling them, a high skill when dealing with such a dense text – a skill portrayed less by Jonathan Livingstone (Friar) in comparison, who lacked a certain ease of interpreting the full meaning of the script to the audience, which James excelled in.

Yet the actresses stood out above the men, perhaps because they were in the minority. Hedydd Dylan (Hippolita) commanded the space with her voice and elastic facial expressions – who, although playing the darkly comic villainess, conducted our attentions and debatably our backing. Nicola Sanderson (Putana) gave new quirks to the Nurse which the audience thoroughly warmed to – perhaps because they felt safer with this old archetype than the performance’s more radical features of eroticism.

Significantly, the performance did not surrender to either Annabella’s innocence or her conscious blame for the events which befall her. Gina Bramhill (Annabella) gives a beautifully understated performance, not rising to extremities of emotional rage or lust, making her the most natural character within the piece. Yet, her lack of internal voice, surrounded by such colourful and exaggerated others, distances her from us and we cannot fully trust nor understand her. The casting is perfect. Bramhill is childlike and delicately thin, with an angelic face which portrays something secretive behind the eyes which hints that she is in control.

The most spectacular visual image, which sticks with me most strongly, came when Vasques reveals the truth of Annabella’s incestuous secret – bodies writhing in a mass of forbidden ecstasy and Annabella, the whore, framed within the mass as a hellish temptress. This was the corruption of her angelic image and the secret eroticism behind society, a corruption drawn from elements in our own modern culture, this sexualisation of culture which has become so present in our literature, S&M fashion, media and daily vocabulary.

Eve Wersocki Morris

See Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the Theatre Royal Nottingham until 10th November. 

 

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