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John Ford is a 17th century Quentin Tarantino. This revenge tragedy has incest, torture, a handful of murders and a lot of blood. If it was written today it would be controversial, so I can’t imagine what they thought 400 years ago.

A few suitors are circling Annabella but before any get very far her brother Giovanni confesses his love for her, only to find it’s reciprocated and then quickly consummated. They agree she has to marry one of her suitors anyway and she’s soon betrothed and wed to Soranzo, but on their wedding night he discovers she’s already pregnant, so clearly no virgin! Thus begins the carnage which ends with five dead bodies at Soranzo’s birthday party.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was created for Jacobean plays like this and it fits it like a glove. It’s handsomely costumed by Alex Lowde and excellently staged by Michael Longhurst, with a nice touch of quirkiness. The bed scene is both sexy and squirmy, the treatment of Annabella by her new husband when her plight is revealed is truly shocking and the final bloody scene is masterly.

Fiona Button and Max Bennett are well matched and sexy siblings. The rest of the fine cast includes the excellent Michael Gould as the Friar, Giovanni’s confidante, Morag Siller as a great Putana, Annabella’s confidante, and Sam Cox, as their dad Donado, makes a very believable transition from proud father to distraught father who can’t live with the truth. Stefano Braschi is very good as the affronted Soramzo and James Garnon almost steals the show as a brilliantly buffoonish Bergetto, one of the suitors, returning after his character’s murder as a stern, ice cool Cardinal.

Within a year of it’s opening, the SWP has established itself as a flexible, intimate and indispensable space. This is the first Jacobean drama I’ve seen here, but it’s also been successful staging Shakespeare and early music and opera.

Bloody brilliant.

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