EFR - Reviews of 'Tis Pity

'Tis Pity

Wed 6th – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Tania Nicole Clarke

at 15:23 on 13th Aug 2014

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‘Tis Pity is a re-telling of the bloody, incestuous tragedy originally written by John Ford in the 1630s. Natalie Audley (the playwright and female lead in the performance) has chosen to set this adaptation of the tale in the 1950s. This time period is conveyed subtly through the use of costumes, soundscapes and modernised language; though admittedly the use of swearing often seems excessive, unnecessary and lacking in any real meaning.

For those who are not familiar with the twisted tale, it revolves around Gregory, played by Tim Bond, who falls violently in love with his little sister Anita (Audley). The intense passion felt between the siblings is made explicitly clear from the very beginning of the story, as Gregory confesses “she is me and I am her”. The acting overall is fairly decent, but some of the actors often fall into the habit of delivering their lines in a set rhythm, resulting in a lack of believable emotions behind the dialogue itself. Bond and Audley have strong chemistry on stage, but sometimes the burning passion supposedly felt between the brother and sister isn’t believable due a lack of energy. The stage doesn’t feel as hot and energised as we would wish, given that it’s the battleground for incestuous love, violence and crippling hysteria. Audley’s Anita is extremely child-like, innocent and foolish, which sometimes works for the vulnerability and naivety of the character, but can also feel slightly too ditsy and airy-fairy.

The performance space isn’t ideal for the nature of this particular production, which involves multiple killings, sexual acts, not to mention the final scene, which is quite frankly a blood bath similar in nature to the ending of Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’. The black box studio space downstairs in Merchant’s Hall results in the performance feeling claustrophobic, with the stage looking far too cramped when the six-person cast are all on stage. The company do, however, make the best of a bad situation, and adapting to your performance environment is after all one of the main challenges of the Fringe. The stage combat and fight choreography does require much more attention than it was given, as it is neither stylised nor realistic, and the staging of the deaths thus feel slightly clumsy.

Some thought has clearly been devoted to how the violence should be portrayed on stage; red silk ribbons are used to represent blood for two of the killings, but any effect that this aesthetic device has is then completely lost when the death of Anita at the end of the play is disgustingly gory as Gregory emerges from the wings, his face and body covered in fake blood and what we believe to be a human heart grasped between his palms. There is therefore an artistic discontinuity between the evocative use of metaphoric gore contrasted with the sickeningly realistic slaughter at the end of the play. The production would have benefitted from deciding on a bold and continuous aesthetic representation of violence to stick with throughout.

Finally, something has to be said for Bond’s decision to remain holding the bloody heart in his hand at the end of his performance as the cast take their bows. Due to this the audience struggle to gain a sense of closure at the end of the play, so more careful attention paid to details such as this would have once more enhanced the use of horror on stage.

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Alex Woolley

at 09:16 on 14th Aug 2014

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Tis Pity, a re-telling of John Ford’s 'Tis Pity She’s a Whore set in the 1950s, includes some notably strong performances, but is rather marred by understaffing and the unsuitability of the Merchants’ Hall as a space in which to perform so bloody a play that must, necessarily, rely on various sleights of hand. In such a small space, with the audience so close, these tend to come off as a bit silly.

Peter Strong, in the role of Benedict, the cousin of the incestuous Anita (Natalie Audley) and Gregory (Timothy Bond), is the strongest performer in the troupe. He comes over as sinister, but cloaks his malevolence in quietness and calm, which lends a captivating air of mystery to his character. John Locke, as Richard, father and patrician of the family, puts on convincing mannerisms, and his near-constant look of slight disgust and world-weariness well fits his character, too.

Audley & Co Productions, the Brighton-based group behind 'Tis Pity, clearly include some talented performers. Natalie Audley, as writer, also does a decent job of reworking 'Tis Pity She’s a Whore. There are some strange, perhaps unwarranted, archaisms scattered through the script (“You’re so cruel, dearest one,” Gregory says to Anita), and it is debatable how much 'Tis Pity gains from being set in the 50s rather than in any other decade or century. However, she very effectively manages to cut down Ford’s work so it fits into less than an hour, and this is no mean feat.

As Anita, Audley rather lacks a sense of subtlety. Too often her lines come across as mono-emotional, with little sense of much going on beneath the surface. Similarly, the show would probably be richer if John Locke did not have to take on the roles of both Richard and director – he is very good as Richard, but the pace and energy of some of the scenes might be improved if an outside hand were able to work on them.

The smallness of the space assigned to Audley & Co is also very problematic. The most intense scenes in 'Tis Pity involve on-stage murder, and the emotional content of these scenes is inevitably undercut when murder has to be represented with flowing red ribbons, or when the heart brought on stage is conspicuously made of plastic.

It is a pity that Audley & Co’s production is marred primarily by technical and staffing issues. The script certainly deserves to be staged, and some of the performances are decidedly worth watching. Just don’t go along hoping for catharsis or anything like that.

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