It is hard to picture a more perfect stage for Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore than the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which opened in January this year. The low-lit stage paired with numerous cherubs on the sky-blue ceiling creates a unique space that entitles Ford’s play the intimacy it so truly deserves; a brother and sister in the pursuit of romance is not an everyday stage occurrence. For better or worse, John Ford remains on the fence about the issue at hand – instead of judging the pair, he elects to situate their tale within a climate of hypocrisy.

The Globe’s latest production of the much-revived incest tragedy is bursting with frivolity and ferociousness. Michael Longhurst attacks the script with gusto and has done a fine job with even the minutest moments in the play.

Annabella is inundated with suitors vying to be her partner, but she appears disinterested with all who attempt to win her heart, mocking them from atop a balcony with her maid, Putana. Agonising about his inappropriate feelings, Giovanni strikes up the courage to declare his love for his sister, demanding that she choose him or kill him: evidently, she nominates him, leading them both into a ‘sinful’ spiral that ultimately leads to their mutual undoing.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore is a marvellous ensemble production where the myriad plot diversions are rich and truly entertaining. James Garnoon as both Bergetto and the Cardinal is on fine form, providing much of the humour of the evening. His pairing with Dean Nolan (Poggio/Bandit) makes for some side-splitting visual gags.

As the leads, Max Bennett and Fiona Button deliver exquisite renditions of the incestuous duo, carefully wading through the morally dubious swamp in order to locate some warmth and honesty in their questionable love, despite its monstrosity. The first kiss is mightily uncomfortable to watch, and then suddenly we are witness to the duo nakedly writhing atop crisp white bed sheets – it escalates quickly, to say the least.

The play is bursting at the seams: Longhurst is quite astounding in his ability to avoid overcooking Ford’s plentiful text, extracting all he possibly can from each scene without milking it dry. Supporting actors seem to have their moment in the sun in a way that adds great depth to the overall performance. Culminating in a group-choreographed dance, the evening is rich with vitality and joviality despite the events within the play ending in blood-ridden carnage.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a fantastic reflection of the possibilities of the Globe’s additional space. London theatregoers should pay close attention to this venue, for so far it has had a terrific track record.

Tis Pity She’s a Whore is playing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 7 December. For further information and tickets, see The Globe website.

Photo by Simon Kane.