AFTER the fulminating furore over the imagery of the Virgin Mary and Christ in the publicity for ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, let’s get to the meat of the matter, the most out-there, juiciest of all Jacobean tragedies. The one with the last taboo, incest. Or forbidden passion as it is called here.

Written in 1633 and still capable of causing a stink today, John Ford’s tragic love story has been moved forward by director Jonathan Munby and designer Mike Britton to the 1960s’ Italy of Vespa scooters, Fellini films, sharp suits, white shirts and narrow ties… and divas. More of that later.

The clothes may be Italian chic, but the city around them is splattered with mud, blood, whatever, like an abattoir or cowshed.

These exteriors are contrasted with the stylish interiors of bedrooms, and for the finale, a scene that brazenly replicates the Last Supper. Looking down on a violent and corrupt society is a giant figure of Christ, weighing heavy on the play but not the conscience of those representing the cloth.

Amid plot and counter-plot, brother and sister Giovanni (Damien Molony) and Annabella (Sara Vickers) seal their fateful pact, finding freedom only in each other’s arms.

Typical of Munby’s daring, dazzling, dangerous production, he has cast a pair of young leads, Molony in his professional debut while still in his final year of training at the Drama Centre, and Vickers, not long out of RADA. It adds to the sense of this play being a more twisted variation on the Romeo And Juliet theme.

Without doing him a disservice, Ford’s drama is in some ways the soap opera of its day: far-fetched, headline-grabbing, salacious, and just a little bit silly if you stop to be rational amid all the kills and spills. Munby, however, makes it far better than that, his production being deeply, darkly comic yet grave and gruesome and horrific when necessary.

If the heart-ripping play is provocative, then so too is Munby’s directorial style, and I’m not referring to that poster farce. He takes risks, not only in his central casting, but in his innovations, from the Sixties’ setting to the two songs.

A vision in blue, Vickers’ Annabella walks ever so slowly forward as Molony’s Giovanni waxes lyrical, and suddenly you realise she is holding a microphone.

She bursts into Secret Love, a brilliantly saucy moment from Munby, who then tops it by having Sally Dexter’s spider-black widow Hippolita perform Anyone Who Had A Heart in the cabaret style of a Camille O’Sullivan.

This is blackest of black comedy touches in this bitter delight of a still outrageous play.

’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until May 28. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or