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115

Nausea drove Tychy to evacuate Wanton Theatre’s “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” last night, fifty minutes into the performance. The venue was Paradise in Augustine’s and I managed to stagger back up into the foyer, where I almost blacked out, before making it to the toilets, where I was violently sick. So what happened here then?

It was, I hasten to add, the play. Before finally turning my back on this performance, I had sat through it increasingly trying to think of anything other than what was unfolding in front of me on stage. My mind had screened footage of lovers’ faces, great moments in my life from Pokemon Go, the potential minutiae of the Brexit negotiations, desperate to find any branch that would take my weight. But the waves washed over everything remorselessly.

So this is not going to get very far as a review. I was considerably vexed at having to abort “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” because there are numerous points in the play’s favour. It is being shown around midnight and I had looked forward to basking in that mysterious glamour which late night theatre always possesses. It hails from St Andrews, which has previously sent first-rate productions such as “Meat” and “Bear Hug” to the Fringe. The show is also politically virtuous, with the director, Ryan Hay, partly intending it as a commentary upon encroaching campus censorship.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a Jacobean tragedy which was written by John Ford and first published in 1633. It is meant to be a great privilege to experience it being performed. These plays have not only an innate interest but they will also confirm Harold Bloom’s troops in their conviction that Shakespeare is “the most original writer we will ever know.” It is truly mind-bending to see how far behind Shakespeare had left all of his contemporaries.

Perhaps the desire to outdo Shakespeare, in any way and by using any means available, had led Ford into scripting this horrendous portrayal of incest. The representations of love and sex between an adult brother and sister are aggressively frank. The effect is as savage as unleashing a live bear upon the audience.

When graphically making love, Annabella (Ellie Burke) and Giovanni (Louis Catliff) might appear to have their sights set on the bravura nudity from Game of Thrones, which is, if I am not being rude myself, the obvious influence here. I would normally take a healthy enjoyment in two young performers doing it so well, but the brother-and-sister premise is immediately repulsive, and next the whole scene is dazzling with das unheimliche. Why, the scene looks arousing and my body should surely react in the customary way, but even though I know that everything is an artifice, I am dumb with dry-mouthed horror.

The theme of incest is like a direct hotline to the id, the earliest child-self which would have at least contemplated sexual play with their siblings, before the inevitable assertion of corrective adult power. It is here where Freud posits the notion of castration and it is here where we find the horror at home.

“‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” clads this horror as scantily as possible. All of the characters are almost insanely self-centred and the cast puts across each schemer with a quick show of robotic impulses and clockwork mannerisms. It is like a vicious caricature of the aristocracy as seen from the perspective of Ford’s own unadventurous middling class. Where everywhere there is demented fucking and murder, Annabella’s love for her brother is the only honest thing in the play, and it is simultaneously pure nausea. Once she is pregnant with her brother’s child, she is wrenched into the inescapable cycle of destruction and broken on its bloody wheel.

We cannot realistically sympathise, or find any moral recourse, and so all that there is left for us to do is to watch. When buying my ticket I was warned that there would be episodes of “gore,” and as my spirits sank this word began to tinkle brightly in my ears. Annabella would be surely dragged squirming and still blindly loving on to that final stone floor where eyes are gouged and hearts ripped out.

Nightmarishly, the back row of the audience has been put up to keep guffawing loudly at every minor moment of humour in the play. They are all laughing in the same Oxbridge key. I am afraid that Annabella’s death will make them erupt out of their clothing. The room seems to be getting hotter and hotter. I have to get out of here!

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