Sex, violence and extreme passions in scintillating staging of John Ford's succès de scandale

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Dutch premiere

John Ford, Cheek by Jowl

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Incest, morality, religion and corruption – ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore is still as shocking and controversial as it was almost 400 years ago. Following huge successes in London, New York and Sydney, Cheek by Jowl take John Ford’s 17th century tragedy to Amsterdam. Directors Declan Donellan and Nick Ormerod created a scintillating modern staging full of sex, violence and extreme passions. Against the backdrop of a society which values power and money above all else, the forbidden love between the rebel teenage girl and her brother seems to be the only love which is true and pure. When the couple ignore all warnings and succumb to their passion, they embark on a fateful path towards hell and damnation.
Programme Icoon

‘Donnellan and Ormerod’s sexy and unnerving new production … gruesomely,wildly, alive.’

Time Out Critics’ Choice

Background information

Cheek by Jowl's ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a modern adaptation of the play of the same title by the 17th century playwright John Ford. Written around 1630, it has until this day been one of the most controversial pieces in English stage literature. Not only because the play centres on the incestuous relationship between two siblings, but mainly because Ford's sympathy is with his main protagonists and he fails to condemn their incestuous relationship. Ford portrays Giovanni (the brother) and Annabella (the sister) as noble and virtuous people with a good heart and puts their innocent love against the hypocrisy of society and the church.

The central plot revolves around Annabella, the daughter of Florio of Parma, and her brother Giovanni. Annabella is a delectably nubile young woman, who is attracting the attention of many suitors. Her father favours the rich Soranzo, not knowing that all these men do not interest her in the slightest, as her heart belongs to her brother Giovanni, who has turned his erotic worship of her into a religion. The two lovers pledge they will forever stay true to each other, but their secret, incestuous relationship is soon rendered impossible when it appears that Annabella is pregnant.

Realising that she has acted wrongly, Annabella decides she cannot carry on with Giovanni. She takes her father's advice and agrees to marry Soranzo. However, on the wedding day, Soranzo discovers that Annabella is pregnant. When he finds out who the father is, he concocts a plan to take revenge and invites Giovanni to his birthday party. Despite all warnings, Giovanni accepts, but before he joins the party, he visits Annabella in her room. Unlike Annabella he is not able to sacrifice his love for her, and he kills her. Holding aloft her heart on his dagger, he makes his entry at Soranzo's birthday party.

Director Declan Donnellan has cut out big chunks in his staging of Ford's original text, omitting many of the subplots, instead zooming in on the perspective of Annabella, portraying her as a contemporary, 21st century teenage rebel. The whole of the play is set in her bedroom, designed by Nick Ormerod as a crimson lair dominated by a kingsize bed with bed linen the colour of blood and walls lined with posters of the TV-series True Blood and medieval icons of the Holy Virgin. Ormerods design in combination with Nick Powell's pumping soundrack evokes a cocooned world in which sex, love and religion are intricately interwoven and imagination and taboo desire have been allowed to run a feverish riot. Annabella comes across as a young woman who might seem streetwise, but is only just coming into her sexuality, confused by the feelings it stirs in her and the men around her. Living in a world in which status, money and power seem to be regarded as the only things of true importance, it's no surprise she succumbs to her brother's advances and the pure and honest love he can offer her. Naively, in a way, but also rather recklessly, yielding to her obsessive brother, she embarks on a fateful path towards her own doom. So the pity isn't that she's a whore, as a man of the cloth callously concludes John Ford's original play; it’s that she hasn’t been given the time and space to figure out who she is. Thereby highlighting an issue which puts this interpretation by Cheek by Jowl firmly in our own, modern times.

Biographies

Declan Donnellan is a director and joint artistic director of the British theatre company Cheek by Jowl with his partner Nick Ormerod, having founded the company in 1981. Donnellan was born in 1953 in Manchester and grew up in Ealing, West-London. After reading English and Law at Queen's College, Cambridge, he was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1978. As well as his productions for Cheek by Jowl, he has also directed a number of plays with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Sheridan's The School for Scandal, Dickens' Great Expectations and Shakespeare's King Lear.

In 1989 Donnellan was made Associate Director of the Royal National Theatre in London, where his productions have included Fuentovenjuna, Sweeney Todd, The Mandate and both parts of Angels in America.
Donnellan was invited by the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to direct the ballet Romeo and Juliet; in 1997 he and Nick Ormerod received the prestigious Golden Mask for their staging of Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale in Saint Petersburg. Donnellan has written an original play, Lady Betty, for Cheek by Jowl, which premiered in 1989. in 2001, he published, originally in Russian, his book The Actor and the Target. In 2013, he co-directed his first fim with Nick Ormerod, Bel Ami, based on the story by Guy de Maupassant and starring Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas. Donnellan has received muliple Olivier Awards, the most prestigious award in British theatre. In 1994 he won an Olivier Award for best musical director for Sweeney Todd; in 1987 he won three Olivier Awards, for Le Cid, Twelfth Night and Macbeth.

Nick Ormerod is a British theatre designer and co-founder of the theatre company Cheek by Jowl. Ormerod was born in London in 1951. After reading Law at Cambridge, he received a BA in Theatre Design at the Wimbledon School of Art, in South West London.

With director Declan Donnellan he has since its establishment provided the artistic direction of Cheek by Jowl. With Donnellan, Ormerod also started a sister company in Moscow in 1999.

Ormerod's work is characterised by its simplicity and directness, and has been described as 'brilliant visual poetry of suggestion, of material minimalism'. Since the start of Cheek by Jowl, he has designed all but one of their productions. He also designed The School for Scandal, King Lear and Great Expectations for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Romeo and Juliet for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and The Winter’s Tale for the Maly Drama Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Ormerod was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award in 1988 as Designer of the Year for A Family Affair, The Tempest and Philoctetes. 1988 was also the year he and Donnellan won the Corral de Comedias.

The British theatre company Cheek by Jowl – meaning 'close together' – was established in 1981 by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, both artistic directors of the company. The company make theatre which focuses on the actor's art. They produce work in English as well as in French and Russian.

Cheek by Jowl made its British debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1981, staging William Wycherly's The Country Wife. Their big break came in 1985, when they won the Laurence Olivier Award for Most Promising Newcomer for their stagings of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Shakespeare's Pericles and Andromache by Racine. By the end of the 1980's Cheek by Jowl was regarded as he most influential theatre company of the decade in Great-Britain.

In the 1990's Cheek by Jowl regularly visited the Chekhov Theatre Festival in Russia. In 1997 artistic directors Donnellan and Ormerod won the prestigious Golden Mask for their production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale with the Maly Drama Theatre in Saint Petersburg. At the invitation of the Chekhov Theatre Festival they established a sister company in Moscow in 1999.

The core of Cheek by Jowl's repertoire has always been Shakespeare. They have presented no fewer than fifteen of Shakespeare's plays. Another principle of the company is to present major classics of the European stage, in translation as well as their original languages. The most recent productions of these European classics included Corneille's The Cid and Racine's Andromache. The latter was a co-production with Peter Brook's Bouffes du Nord in Paris, who they collaborated with again in 2013, staging Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore is Cheek by Jowl's most recent production in the English language. After a successful tour visiting, amongst others, Sydney, Paris, London, New York and Madrid, the play will be staged at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam in June 2014.

Credits

text
John Ford
direction
Declan Donnellan
design
Nick Ormerod
associate & movement director
Jane Gibson
lighting
Judith Greenwood
music, sound
Nick Powell
assistant director
Paris Erotokritou
costume supervisor
Angie Burns
company manager
Tim Speechley
technical stage manager
Robin Smith
wardrobe manager
Victoria Youngson
cast
Eve Ponsonby (Annabella), Sam McArdle (Grimaldi), David Collings (Florio), Ruth Everett (Hippolita), Ryan Ellsworth (Donado), Jimmy Fairhurst (Gratiano), Orlando James (Giovanni), Raphael Sowole (Friar), Peter Moreton (Cardinal / Doctor), Nicola Sanderson (Putana), Maximilien Seweryn (Soranzo), Will Alexander (Vasques)
production
Cheek by Jowl
coproductie
Barbican, London, Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène, Nationale, Sydney Festival