After an 18-month multi-million pound redevelopment, Bristol Old Vic will shortly be hosting international touring company Cheek by Jowl and their extraordinary production of John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore to Bristol. We catch up with co-artistic directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod.
Welcome to Bristol. Tell me a little about Cheek by Jowl?
Cheek by Jowl are an international touring theatre company currently presenting work in three languages: English, French and Russian.
Led by co-artistic directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, who established the company in 1981, Cheek by Jowl is one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of companies and has been an Artistic Associate at the Barbican in London since 2005.
You’re known for breathing new life into Shakespeare, Chekhov and Tennessee Williams amongst others. Tell me a little about John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, where “incest, religion and corrupt morality collide”…
The play was possibly written about 10-20 years after Shakespeare died, and the writing looks back to the glory days of such hits as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Rather like a modern film-maker looking back to the thrilling times of film noir. You can feel when you’re hearing it and watching it that Ford had seen these already famous plays and it looks back nostalgically at times.
The plot of ’Tis Pity… particularly echoes Romeo and Juliet, but the problem is no longer that the lovers are from different families, the problem now is that they’re from the same one.
It was an extremely shocking piece of work for its time. Does it still pack a punch today?
It is a very human study about an illicit passion, and offers a compelling insight into our capacity to break rules – our absolute need to break rules. Life often depends on disobedience. Most importantly I think the play examines the nature of taboo.
One of the reasons ’Tis Pity… continues to be so powerful through the centuries is not only because it is so brilliantly constructed and humanly observed, but because it deals head-on with one particular taboo which has never been challenged. And as a taboo, incest absolutely controls the overwhelming majority of us still: it is untouched; it has never lost its capacity to get under our skin. Somewhere in the contemplation of incest we see the wall of our own limits.
What was your approach to this production specifically and what are the key themes in the text you wanted to explore?
With ’Tis Pity… the play’s excesses are thrown into relief against a relatively normal background: in this case, Annabella’s [the lead female character] bedroom and the bathroom that leads off from it. In her choice of posters and colours, however, there are some hints of these excesses.
How have audiences reacted to it? Have you been surprised?
We have been fortunate enough to visit some wonderful international venues with ’Tis Pity…, and been delighted by the responses of audiences in Paris, London, Sydney, New York and beyond!
Are you looking forward to coming to Bristol/Bristol Old Vic? What is your relationship to either?
We’re extremely happy at this opportunity to come to Bristol. This is the first time we are presenting our work at Bristol Old Vic, and are delighted to be one of the first companies to play on the beautiful new stage.
What’s next for you?
In January 2013 we are opening a new production of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, in French, with our company of French actors. The production will then tour the UK and Europe.
OTHER RECENT CLASSIC TALES TO HAVE UNDERGONE A CHEEK BY JOWL MAKEOVER
2009 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare – performed again in 2010 and 2011
2008 – Troilus and Cressida, by William Shakespeare
2007 – Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare
2006 – The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
2005 – Three Sisters, by Anton Chekhov – performed again in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011
2004 – Othello, by William Shakespeare
2002 – Homebody / Kabul, by Tony Kushner – British premiere
1998 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare
1997 – Out Cry, by Tennessee Williams – British premiere
1995 – The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE OPENS AT BRISTOL OLD VIC FROM 24 OCT-3 NOV. TO BOOK TICKETS, CALL 0117 987 7877 OR VISIT BRISTOLOLDVIC.ORG.UK
Photography credits: John Haynes, Patrick Baldwin, Manuel Harlan