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'Tis Pity She's a Whore

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The play has adult themes. Parental guidance recommended.


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The Play

Autumn Production 2007
by John Ford

Directed by Chris Sims

'Tis Pity She's a Whore is a tale of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery - as a great man once wrote, all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts. However, in this black-as-pitch tragedy there is an extra element that is as shocking now as it was when the play first appeared in 1633: incest.

The relationship between siblings Giovanni and Annabella lies at the centre of the play and is the key development leading to the inevitable tragic, brutal and bloody climax. But the background of schemes, villainy and moral decay against which this forbidden love plays out forces us to question our easy condemnation of such a relationship. As rival suitors compete for Annabella's hand, the apparently banal domestic setting conceals a world of deception and manipulation, ripe to explode into violence - which, with barely half the cast surviving to the end of the play, it certainly does.

The fact that incest remains strongly taboo in modern society means that the play has retained much of its original impact. It is still unnerving, thought provoking and challenging: a much darker version of Romeo and Juliet, with which it is often compared and which was clearly a source of inspiration for Ford. It is also one of the most beautifully written plays of English classical theatre.

For actors, the play offers a feast of juicy roles. There are fifteen in total, and from the lead roles to the smallest they are all layered, individualised characters. In brief (with rough indications of ages), they are as follows:


  • Giovanni - Arrogant, handsome, gifted and headstrong, Giovanni is determined to pursue his love for his sister Annabella at all costs. Age 20-30.
  • Soranzo - A wealthy young nobleman, Soranzo is Annabella's leading suitor. Outwardly charming, he conceals a violent, thuggish nature and a dubious past. Age 25-35 (though could be older).
  • Grimaldi - Another young nobleman courting Annabella, though lacking Soranzo's poise and smoothness. Vicious and cowardly. Age 20-30.
  • Bergetto - Yet another of Annabella's suitors, Bergetto is a child in a man's body: innocent, foolish yet warm hearted, he is by turns treated with mockery and affection by the others. Age 20-35.
  • Vasques - Soranzo's Spanish servant, Vasques is entirely twisted: scheming, remorseless and without scruples. Age 35-50.
  • Donado - Bergetto's uncle, seeking to secure a match for his nephew with Annabella. Donado is an upstanding citizen who is embarrassed by Bergetto's social inadequacies. Age 45-60.
  • Poggio - Bergetto's servant. His jovial nature and clear enjoyment of Bergetto's childish games conceal a deep affection for and devotion to his master. Age 20-35.
  • Richardetto - A mysterious character who is believed to be dead by the other characters, Richardetto spends most of the play in disguise as he seeks revenge on Soranzo for seducing his wife. Manipulative and obsessed with his plots. Age 35-50.
  • Friar Bonaventura - Giovanni's spiritual counsellor who tries in vain to keep him from pursuing Annabella. Apparently gentle and holy, he is not above using scare tactics. Age 45-60.
  • Cardinal - A high representative of the Catholic Church, the Cardinal is corrupt, greedy and self-serving. Age 50-60.


  • Annabella - Intelligent and sweet natured, Annabella's apparent innocence is belied by her readiness to enter into an incestuous relationship with Giovanni. She is more cowed by social pressure and the threat of damnation than her brother, but shows a fiery defiance too. Age 20-30.
  • Floria - The mother of Giovanni and Annabella, Floria is apparently kindly but rather hypocritical. While claiming she wishes Annabella to marry for love, Floria has clearly already selected Soranzo as her daughter's husband and shows little real regard for her children's welfare. Note: in the original play the character is male (Florio). Age 45-60.
  • Putana - Annabella's "tutoress", Putana is a coarse, vulgar and morally dubious choice for such a role (her name means "whore" in Italian). The only character who both knows about the incest and encourages it. Age 45-60.
  • Hippolita - Richardetto's wife, Hippolita is a noble and haughty woman bent on revenge for her shoddy treatment at the hands of former lover Soranzo, for whom she killed her husband - or so she thinks. Age 30-45.
  • Philotis - Richardetto's niece, Philotis is an innocent used by her uncle to further his schemes for revenge. Although naive and docile, we begin to see a more passionate side to her when she falls in love with Bergetto (unsurprisingly, it doesn't end well). Age 18-25.

We will also need two or three actors to play the "banditti" - hired thugs who have no lines but who will need to attend a few rehearsals to choreograph the final fight scene. It's possible some of the backstage crew may be able to double up for this!

There have been many professional productions of the play. In the UK, they have included the 1999 Old Vic production with Jude Law as Giovanni and Kevin McKidd as Soranzo; the 1988 Royal National Theatre production with Rupert Graves as Giovanni, and the 1972 Actors' Company production with Ian McKellen as Giovanni and Felicity Kendal as Annabella. A film version was produced in 1973 and a BBC adaptation in 1980.

A note on the language

Ford wrote 'Tis Pity some fifteen years after Shakespeare's death, and the language and structure of the play is directly comparable to a Shakespearean tragedy. If you haven't acted using this kind of language before this might seem somewhat intimidating, particularly if English is not your first language. I would urge you not to let this stop you auditioning! Early rehearsal time will include a lot of attention to the rhythm of the lines, and to clarifying text that at first sight seems difficult or obscure. In fact, many actors find that once they are used to it, the poetry of the lines helps them because it provides a structure and a flow lacking in modern prose.

In short: anyone who speaks English can learn to speak, enjoy and perform in the language of this play!

If you have are interested in auditioning or crewing, have any questions about the play or would like to see a copy of the script, please contact Chris on