Che morte piu dolche morire per amore?
The audience for the first night of Martin Allison’s adaptation of Ford’s 1629 play “’Tis Pity” was, I think, the most rapt and focused I have ever been part of, as we were riveted by the compelling power of this rich and strange drama. For an audience to be convinced by its intensity, the director needs to ensure that we truly believe in the incestuous love at its dark heart. Ollie Clark and Tilda Martin were utterly credible, with Ollie conveying his pathological jealousy even in his silent acting as Giovanni, and Tilda, as his sister Annabella, gave us the painful change from deep love to passionate remorse.
Ben Castle-Gibb rose to the challenge of the second half in which the servant Vasques shows his true Machiavellian nature. The moment at which Putana (the excellent Scarlett Rudd) reveals the incest to Vasques was a stunning display of pure facial acting by Ben, whose accent was less a naturalistic touch, than a way to differentiate his vengeful nature, in which the Spaniard takes a disturbingly patriotic pride.
Adam van Schaik brought an oleaginous evil to Soranzo that few actors of his age could find, and the sheer clarity and variety of tone in the projection of his speeches was testament not just to his own intelligence and sensitivity, but also to the careful rehearsal work. Many first nights of school plays have to be a skin-of-the-teeth, wing-and-a-prayer success, but these actors were drilled to the point from which they could rise to the occasion of a real performance. Will Yeeles had a strong stage presence and gave a wonderfully masculine vocal performance as the well-meaning Friar (one of the many parody references to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’) and Tommy Taylor (who played two parts) as the Cardinal had the heft and height for the final speech with its infamous conclusion, “’Tis pity she’s a whore”.
The director cut the play very deftly but (unlike some famous professional productions) wisely retained much of ‘idiot’ Bergetto’s comedy, played delightfully by the bright-eyed Bruno Broughton. A little of this Parmesan cheese prevented the play from having too relentlessly bitter a taste. It also ensured an ebb and flow in the play’s pacing which meant the 75-minute first half seemed to pass in half the time. Half the actors remain unmentioned (and will be name-checked in my ‘Cranleighan’ review) but I must credit some of the other two dozen people named in the programme. The set design was cleverly adapted from a 2004 design by Peter McNiven and the excellent Clockwork Scenery company who constructed it is run by Old Cranleighan George Orange, who worked on our plays in the nineties. A very effective touch was the change of the chess-board floor to red and white, and striking also were the wonderful period costumes, beautifully chosen to suit each character and a significant change from 2004.
The lighting design by Mark Jenkins and Robbie Matthews complemented and created the atmosphere of the scenes superbly and David Futcher and Chloё Allison fully reworked Richard Mayo’s incidental music: I am not normally a fan of such a soundtrack but Martin Allison’s judgment ensured that it added to the mood and tension of the scenes. To this was added the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony for the incestuous scenes: the Visconti ‘Death in Venice’ overtones added an extra frisson. Another touch of class was the use of Strauss’s ‘Metamorphosen’ before each half to create a dark yet ecstatic mood. Such attention to detail extended to the knives and other properties furnished by Graham Harris and Paul Leggitt: making the letters look authentic might seem a finicking detail, but such meticulous care added to my feeling that this production had a finished perfection that is rare even by the high standards of Cranleigh School Drama. A section of the audience who were especially concentrated were the A-level pupils, for whom this was a rare very opportunity to see this set text live. But above all this was an evening that revealed, in Ford’s own words, that it is “the silent griefs that cut the heartstrings.”