My favorite moment in London came my last night before flying home, when I went to see Tis a Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The playhouse alone is fantastic. Associated with the Shakespeare’s Globe replica, it has been built according to the plans for a 17th century style indoor theater. The theater is small and the stage performances are candlelit, making it feel intimate.
In addition to the amazing setting, Tis a Pity She’s a Whore was one of the best performed plays I’ve ever seen. The play, which I read in college as part of a Shakespeare’s contemporaries class, is about a young man who falls in love with his sister. When he comes to her to confess his love, begging her to kill him or love him, she matches his love and the two begin an incestuous affair.
Meanwhile, the sister is being courted by three different suitors. As the tale unfolds and the desires of each of the characters overlaps and conflicts, several plot lines of revenge evolve and unfold into bloodshed.
The play was funnier than I remember it being in college, as dry reading on the page bears less life than what was brought to the stage with these amazing actors and well planned direction. The result felt like a 17th century version of a campy horror flick with plenty of well punctuated humor and pools of blood puddling onto the stage. Though no campy horror flick could have featured the resonance and complexity of this story, which presents an even handed look at the brother and sister’s relationship. Although, I found the concept disturbing, I also found myself wanting the brother and sister to be protected from the doom coming for them.
The candle lit atmosphere fit the story perfectly. The playhouse had candelabras that could be raised and lowered during the performance, allowing changes of setting to be indicated and at one point for the candle light to be doused entirely to present a night scene, at which point the actors lit themselves with handheld candles.
Though the play was three hours long, it never once dragged. I left the playhouse feeling elated, having seen an amazing performance.
The program was also the best put together booklet I’ve seen, providing not just a synopsis of the play and a list of the actors, but also a look at the influences of the play when it was written, a biography on John Ford, a critical analysis of the storyline, and a historical look at house incest was perceived in the 17th century compared to today. It also provides information on the historical style of the playhouse and how the modern replica was built. The program was worth every penny of the four pounds I played for it.
I would almost travel back to London just to see another performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse â€” it was that good.