Incest is best in this Cheek By Jowl production

THEATRE

‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE

Barbican

Four Stars

CHEEK By Jowl’s production of John Ford’s 1633 play ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore rips some of the flesh from the original but preserves its darkly beating heart. Condensed into an intense interval-less two hours, it’s a bloody collision of taboos lit up by a sparkling cast.

In the first scene an adolescent Annabella (Eve Ponsonby) lies alone on her bed, playing idly with her phone. There are few spaces more private than a teenager’s bedroom but this one feels unnervingly open and exposed.

It’s a skilfully ambiguous performance from Ponsonby; her Annabella relishes her burgeoning sexuality while also appearing to teeter on the edge of childhood, vulnerable to the advances of a range of predatory suitors. In the end it’s her brother Giovanni (played by the excellent Orlando James) who perpetrates the ultimate defilement, though compared to her father’s preferred match, Giovanni is benign, naive to the gross transgression his passion represents. This is the play’s strongest point – Ford doesn’t make an example of the incestuous couple, instead their unnatural union is presented as symptomatic of a society wretched to the core. Declan Donnellan’s direction revels in its badness, refusing to hold back on the gore or the sex, and rightly so. This is a bloody 17th century treat.