’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, a rehearsed reading presented at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin. 9th June 2011.

Edel Semple
University College Dublin

Edel Semple, "Review of John Ford, ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, a rehearsed reading presented at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin. 9th June 2011." EMLS 16.1 (2012): 20. http://purl.org/emls/16-1/revtisp.htm

Directed by: Selina Cartmell. With Louis Lovett (Giovanni), Aoife Duffin (Annabella), Don Wycherley (Bergetto/Banditti), Darren Yorke (Poggio/Banditti), Cathy Belton (Hippolita), Lorcan Cranitch (Soranzo), Ronan Leahy (Vasques), Mark Lambert (Florio), Marion O’Dwyer (Putana), Nick Dunning (Friar/Cardinal/Donado), Nicholas Johnson (Richardetto), Roisin Agnew (Philotis), Manus Halligan (Grimaldi/Stage Instructions), and Rachel Gleeson (Singer).


  1. Staged readings, on the whole, do not immediately leap off the page – if you’ll pardon the pun – as consistently engaging and affecting; there is no doubt that some staged readings can appear bland or tedious, or have the air of a work-in-progress. Thankfully, and to the delight of all present, the staged reading of ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, performed as part of the Trinity College Dublin Shakespeare Festival, was not one of those readings. This production of John Ford’s infamous play was above all enjoyable and, moreover, was a fine example of why such readings are worthy of critical attention. While its mode of performance could have been a hindrance, impeding the interpretation of the text and audience enjoyment, the format instead provided focus and theatrical opportunity for both actors and spectators. The lack of props, scenery and costume meant that Ford’s language took centre stage; its sophistication and sensitivity was evident, and, even in a play notable for physical violence and grisly props, the lack of theatrical convention was not a deficiency as the words aided the audience in imagining bloody deaths and impaled hearts. This minimalism also brought with it a heightened awareness of voice: the actor’s tone, pitch, accent, and asides became finely nuanced and enhanced the power of the verse. In this production, then, the staged reading format allowed the actors to fully showcase the vitality of Ford’s language and to be inventive in their portrayal of characters, and this in turn afforded the audience fresh insight into this rarely performed play.

  2. In this staged reading of ’Tis Pity, the sense of dark desire and inescapable doom that pervades Ford’s incest-drama was brilliantly conveyed in the simplest of ways. Upon entering the Samuel Beckett Theatre, the audience were greeted with a semi-circle of actors sitting silently in the gloomy space; small, hushed and shadowy, the room provoked thoughts of the womb that would become so central to the play. The stage was simply presented for the reading. Against a black backdrop, the actors wore black and the stage was lit only by bare lightbulbs in freestanding lamps. With the actors sitting close together, observing one another, and sparsely lit, an intimate and oppressive atmosphere was created, hinting at the stifling society of Parma and the brooding incestuous affair at the heart of the play.

  3. Playbooks in hand, each actor was seated in an office chair and wheeled forward when his/her character entered; this sometimes facilitated the actors in making innovative choices in their characterisation. For instance, the exuberant character of Bergetto (Don Wycherley) was excellently conveyed as he comically whirled forward, gushing about his desire to see new fashions and the horse with its head at its tail. With the actors seated for almost the entire performance, any deviation from this emphasised the significance of the moment. Annabella’s kneeling before a towering and enraged Soranzo, for instance, added greatly to a scene already laden with unease and pathos.

  4. While the text had been edited, most changes were not immediately conspicuous. For instance, the Cardinal’s order for Putana to be burnt, delivered at the play’s finale, was cut from this production; the last the audience heard of the tutoress was when we saw her dragged off to have her eyes put out in Act 4 Sc.3, but this provided ample closure on her character’s fate. However, a minor flaw came in the form of the disguise of Richardetto (Nicholas Johnson); the finale revelation of Richardetto’s disguise was cut, and thus the other characters remained ignorant of his true identity. On the other hand, this loose end did serve a purpose, as the removal of Richardetto’s sudden disclosure made for an uncluttered finale, with only Vasques and the Cardinal onstage.

  5. Louis Lovett’s Giovanni was slick and self-assured; even in his moments of doubt and recrimination he seemed more manipulative predator than tortured victim. Giovanni’s age and self-command played well against Aoife Duffin’s youthful Annabella. Whether falling in love, questioning her decisions, or pleading for her life, Duffin managed to avoid being sickly-sweet or melodramatic and instead aroused sympathy with her vulnerability and tenderness and, later, regret and horror. The performances of this central pair meant that the audience had no problem in imagining balconies, beds or a heart on a dagger for that matter. The casting of these actors also brought to mind the eponymous lovers of Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy which Ford consciously drew on in his representation of ill-fated love.

  6. Despite the omnipresence of corruption and death in this play, or perhaps because of it, every opportunity for humour was fully exploited. Marion O’Dywer’s Putana consistently brought a smile to the face with her cosseting motherliness and cheerful, if disconcerting, willingness to facilitate the incestuous love-affair. The comic duo of Bergetto (Don Wycherley) and Poggio (Darren Yorke) brought much energy to the production and were a great hit with the audience. Alternating between self-aggrandisement, childlike naivety and deflated pride, Don Wycherley captured the spirit of Bergetto and provoked much laughter; his death was both darkly comic and pathetic, and with his exit the play noticeably took a turn for the resolutely serious. Darren Yorke brought a rustic flavour to his scenes giving Poggio a well-pitched Irish country accent; his deadpan delivery provided a nice contrast to Bergetto’s silliness. The duo also provided movement as well as merriment, as Bergetto frequently thumped Poggio only to be outwitted by the humour of his servant.

  7. Cathy Belton’s Hippolita was no one-dimensional figure of revenge; rather, Hippolita’s tirade against her “perjured” ex-lover Soranzo and her dying curses upon the newly-weds showed her to be a wronged woman speaking from experience. However, while Hippolita appeared like a mixture of Fury and prophetess in her final moments, the revellers remained deaf to her predictions, quickly treating her death as a forgettable triviality and showing their ignorance in doing so. Belton’s Hippolita was well-matched in Lorcan Cranitch’s commanding Soranzo, and their scenes offered a mature counterpoint to the love-affair of the young siblings. Although authoritarian and stern, Cranitch’s Soranzo did manage to portray a genuine care for Annabella. Upon the revelation of her dishonesty, however, he made for a terrifying figure as he bellowed at his prone wife. Soranzo’s rage was only barely-concealed, at Vasques’ suggestion of revenge, and this made Duffin’s Annabella appear all the more pitiful; so eager was she to believe that her husband had forgiven all and now offered redemption, that she seemed to overlook any sign to the contrary.

  8. Despite the absence of props and scenery, the violence of the finale was made clear through spoken stage directions, verbal cues and a little imagination. With the play’s spiralling body count, the sudden death, mid-speech, of Florio (Mark Lambert) could have appeared farcical; instead, it was executed in an understated manner that served to underscore Giovanni’s bloody feat. Giovanni and Soranzo were quickly dispensed with and an unusual duo was left onstage. Throughout, Vasques (Ronan Leahy) had proved himself a competent servant, flitting from character to character with his master’s best interests at heart; in this production, he seemed to be rewarded by being the last onstage with the Cardinal as the play closed. However, Vasques’ presence simply accentuated the fact that he was surrounded by bodies, the only survivor remaining to listen to the Cardinal’s decrees. Although Nick Dunning’s portrayal of the Cardinal was suitably regal, he did not quite deliver on the important closing couplet of the play: archly holding the audience’s gaze, the Cardinal melodramatically paused midway through the final line, disrupting the flow of the couplet and lessening the feel of the “’Tis pity...” as an important formulaic catchphrase. Overall though, this was a strong presentation of one of the most gripping plays of the 1630s; the performance was enthusiastically received by the audience, and on all accounts it bodes well for the full-scale production promised in Autumn/Winter 2011.


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).