Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Review by Jenny Richards
This is a BBC Radio 4 review of Michael Longhurst’s stage production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’, a play published in the Caroline period by John Ford. The discussion is chaired by the broadcaster and journalist Tom Sutcliffe while novelist and journalist, Linda Grant, theatre correspondent and critic, David Benedict, and writer and broadcaster, Emma Wolf, share their critiques of the production.
This will be relevant to those taking the Renaissance Drama module and especially pertinent to those reviewing theatre productions in their assessments; the programme provides examples of the aspects of production that are picked up on by critics and emphasises in particular the relationship between this production and the play’s original text. It is interesting to note that there is a balance in the discussion between the negatives and positives of the performance; though somewhat brief, the reviewers display a range of nuanced responses to Longhurst’s production and incorporate comments on design, script editing and performance.
Emma Wolf describes the play as one that is shocking, both in the amount of blood and gore that features on stage and the controversial incest that the protagonists participate in. This is thought to be the reason for the play’s relatively short performance history; these themes and images remain uncomfortable for a modern audience in a way that the promiscuity and sexual scenes in other renaissance dramas do not.
Despite the shocking nature of the play however, David Benedict feels that this production only delivers the dark themes of play superficially. Several reasons for this are drawn out and explored; the director’s lack of editing the original script seems to be a primary complaint. David Benedict and Linda Grant both find the elements of sub plot in the play are actually more obstructive than insightful for the modern audience and make the central plot harder to follow.
David Benedict also critiques the director’s decision to balance the costume ambiguously between Elizabethan and modern dress, arguing that this modernity spills over into the performance style in a way that is detrimental to the language of the play. It seems that this play could not survive an entirely updated modern setting and costume in the same way that many Shakespearean plays can.
Finally, there is a discussion of the space used in the production. All three critics agree that, performed in a small theatre by candlelight, the sexual transgressions and the passion that permeate the play become more dark and intense in low lighting and on a more intimate stage. These elements of production, such as the size and design of the stage on which it is performed and the acoustics of the venue, may be worth examining in a review of a live production as this can have quite an impact on the atmosphere of the performance.