Incest and murder are inherently controversial themes, and with advertising for ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the West Yorkshire Playhouse causing a stir with the Catholic church before the play even premiered, it was clear that it was not going to be a performance that sat comfortably with the audience. The poster that placed the Virgin Mary next to the protestation of ‘whore’ was but a tame forewarning to the moment when the curtain went down for the interval with Giovanni’s face buried in his sister’s crotch. ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is undoubtedly shocking, but as someone who believes theatre excels when it’s being subversive, I found it to be a gruesomely enthralling triumph.

John Ford’s tragedy holds the same resonating power to shock as it did 400 years ago. It depicts the tortured Giovanni, professing his forbidden love to his sister Annabella, followed by a passionate affair culminating in a bloody massacre. Transported to the slick and tumultuous 1960s Italy by director Jonathan Munby, this incestuous tale is told in sharp suits and fitted dresses, under the watchful eye of the corrupt Catholic Church.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is beautifully executed; the vast stage is amply filled by the stylish set of chunky furniture and an awe-inspiring crucifix, with the occasional vespa scooting across the scene. This impressive set is complimented by a more-than-impressive cast: Damien Molony skilfully depicts Giovanni descending into a frenzied, impassioned madness, and Sara Vickers plays Annabella with the right mix of vulnerability and sass that sees her being tossed around between her misogynistic suitors. None is more noteworthy than the wonderful Sally Dexter as Hippolita, who hits a deliciously black comedic note with her wedding-crashing rendition of Burt Bacarach’s ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ – an addition that seems bizarrely dysfunctional yet somehow completely appropriate in a play that uses music so dexterously to enhance Ford’s material.

Ford’s story of deceit, corruption and incest is brought spectacularly to life on the stage of the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It does indeed make for uncomfortable viewing, but in a way that makes you relish in the outrageousness of Giovanni strolling across a table flaunting his sister’s bloody heart rather than condemn him for being, quite frankly, grotesque. Munby’s play has been dubbed “Romeo and Juliet meets Quentin Tarantino” and it’s easy to see why: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is a skewed love story ending with a bloody death toll that is shocking, engrossing and indisputably brilliant.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 28th of May. For more information and tickets, see the website here.