Sex On Sunday: ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore (Malthouse Theatre)
Now... as Tim Minchin used to sing in his concert opener ‘Hello’, “If you are offended by strong language or blasphemy, maybe you should choof off home. Cos it’s only gonna get worse...” Very soon.
Potts comes out swinging in her production. It begins with Punch using some spit to lubricate Judy. And Judy is promptly, er, digitised. Shall we say.
Crass, yes, but all right... If we’re gonna get nitrogen in our blood, it’s gotta happen quick. We’re sent plunging into the deep.
But, Marion, mate... What I wanna know is:
If you’re gonna screen a video of Real Fucking, why do it on a tiny computer monitor behind Jethro? (You pussy!) Why not a massive flat screen for B’s (and our) viewing enjoyment? Afraid the on-stage action won’t compete?
Why did you choose ‘9 Songs’? [I swear to god, that’s the first time ever my fingers have ever obeyed my brain and typed ‘Songs’ instead of ‘Snogs’ after the number 9!!]
Why not a film about incest? Is Blue Lagoon not hot enough for ya? [I’ve just discovered they were supposed to be cousins, not brother and sister... boy am I pissed off... retrospectively!!] Or Chaotic Ana? [The incest in Julio Médem’s film -- which has deep family significance for the director, and it shows -- is between a reincarnated mother and her son from a previous life!] Why not some Greenaway? The Cook, The Thief was inspired by this play, no?
And why only screen the sex scenes? (Is that a dumb question?) In a loop? Okay, I understand you might want to plug into the frisson -- the ridiculous flap -- that surrounded the release of the Winterbottom film, containing actual sex and all that jizz [sorry]... but then why did you edit the “money shot” out of the loop?
You show actual oral but cut the climax!?!
Now, I realise I tend to overanalyse these things, semiotically, but the video was there for a reason, and the cum shot was left out for a reason. But what, precisely, those reasons are eludes me. Is it something prosaic, perhaps? Is it a classification problem? Are you not permitted to show X-rated Ken Park-level footage in public? (Or do you only have a Region 4 release and it has been circumcised for local audiences?)
I’ve answered my own question haven’t I? It’s like Rowan Atkinson’s hell... when one of the damned asks for the dunny, Rowan pointedly responds that there are no toilets, as hell is “damnation without relief.” [In my review for The Australian, dear non-Marion Potts reader, I argue that ‘hell’ in the three-tier world of the production is all coitus reservatus... The shadow falls between the hunger and the meal. Between chewing and, er, swallowing.] [Can’t believe I’m writing this at nine in the morning!]
Still, Marion... WTF? Please explain!
Anyway, since Cameron asked so nicely, here is my Australian review. Uncut. Heh!
Marion Potts’ abridgement of John Ford’s early 17th century story of incest and vengeance is sweeping but discriminating. It slashes every single distraction from the main game. Gone are the Friar, the Cardinal, the murdering Roman gentleman Grimaldi and other suitors for Florio’s daughter.
That leaves the girl herself, Annabella, pregnant to her brother Giovanni, and the man Annabella consents to marry to avoid scandal. But Soranzo is no Saint Joseph: he beats his new wife and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t identify the man who stole what was rightfully his. She refuses. (Soranzo’s servant Vasques then tricks Annabella’s governess -- the inexplicably-named Putana -- into revealing the awful truth, then blinds her and has her nose slit.)
Apart from the clunky introduction of the character Hippolita -- a jilted lover of Soranzo’s whose husband is believed dead -- the storyline is clear and often awesomely powerful. But this production is far more than just a ‘John Ford for Dummies’ exercise. The new Artistic Director of Malthouse Theatre gives us a three tiered extravaganza.
In Ford’s play, Annabella first appears -- like Juliet -- on a balcony, high above a brawl between her suitors. She then sees and desires -- apparently without recognising -- her brother Giovanni. Annabella’s descent is literal and, of course, metaphorical. Potts’ universe preserves that layering. Her underworld is hellish and contemporary, built out of tagged shipping containers.
The action begins there with a character named B (Chris Ryan) crudely using Punch and Judy puppets to simulate sex. Maybe he’s “the wanton” that the Friar warns Annabella of: “On racks of burning steel... he feels the torment of his raging lust.”
Ay, you are wretched, miserably wretched,In the tier above B, the action of Ford’s play takes place. It’s clean -- almost Mozartian -- in design, with a mural combining creation and crucifixion. In the uppermost tier, a harpsichord-playing soprano (the heavenly Julia County) reigns like an taintless angel.
Almost condemn’d alive. There is a place,
List, daughter! in a black and hollow vault,
Where day is never seen; there shines no sun,
But flaming horror of consuming fires,
A lightless sulphur, choak’d with smoky fogs
Of an infected darkness : in this place
Dwell many thousand thousand sundry sorts
Of never-dying deaths: there damned souls
Roar without pity; there are gluttons fed
With toads and adders; there is burning oil
Pour’d down the drunkard’s throat; the usurer
Is forced to sup whole draughts of molten gold;
There is the murderer for ever stabb’d,
Yet can he never die; there lies the wanton
On racks of burning steel, whilst in his soul
He feels the torment of his raging lust.—
Potts manages these extremes -- both formal and thematic -- with infectious confidence. After thirty minutes, her audience was ready for any journey. To any destination. By any means. And she demonstrably has the confidence of her cast, who act with the kind of fearlessness that comes with lucid and firm direction. Elizabeth Nabben is a memorable and delightful Annabella. Making a welcome return to the Malthouse, Anthony Brandon Wong is an excellent Vasques, like an evil Figaro. But they are first among equals.
’Tis Pity She’s A Whore by John Ford. Adapted and directed by Marion Potts. Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, until March 5. Tickets: $21-$55 plus booking fee. Bookings 03 9685 5111.
Original Music by Andrée Greenwell. Set & costume design by Anna Cordingley. Lighting design by Paul Jackson. Sound design and live music performed by Jethro Woodward. Dramaturgy by Maryanne Lynch.
Cast: John Adam, Julia County, Laura Lattuada, Elizabeth Nabben, Richard Piper, Chris Ryan, Benedict Samuel, Alison Whyte, Anthony Brandon Wong.
Running Time: 100 minutes (no interval)