Entertainment » Theatre

Tristan & Yseult

by Clinton Campbell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Mar 12, 2015
Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo in "Tristan & Yseult"
Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo in "Tristan & Yseult"  (Source:ArtsEmerson)

A 12th century legend, Monty Python, Wagner, and Daft Punk all come together in Kneehigh's delightful mash-up production of "Tristan & Yseult" currently playing at Cutler Majestic Theater through March 15.

For those unfamiliar, the story involves the young and handsome Tristan being sent to pick up King Mark's new war bride, the young and beautiful Yseult. On the journey back, the two fall in love and events unravel from there. It is the standard ill-fated love affair. Many believe it is the inspiration for the more familiar Lancelot and Guinevere tale from King Arthur mythology.

Director Emma Rice has set this story of "star-cross'd lovers" in The Club of the Unloved run by the ever composed Whitehands, played impeccably by Kirsty Woodward. The clubs patrons - the Lovespotters (or Unloved) - form the ensemble that takes us through the story. In their raincoats and knit hats, they certainly look the part of the lonely hearts standing against a wall waiting for someone to ask them to dance.

As the ill-fated lovers Tristan and Ysuelt, Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo are pleasant; but as is often the case, the central lovers' roles are rather flat. The actors do what they can - even performing a lovely aerialist routine that underlines the giddiness of first falling in love - but there really isn't anything revelatory about the characters.

This show is about the supporting characters. Stuart Goodwin's King Mark is a man who carries the weight of both love and betrayal. One of the show's most powerful scenes (set to Nick Cave's "Sweetheart Come") occurs during an attempt at reconciliation between the King and Yseult.

Niall Ashdown provides a delightfully Python-esque performance as Yseult's handmaiden, Brangian. It is a performance that straddles the line between laughter and tears. Her soliloquy about the very personal sacrifice she makes for her queen is a punch to the gut.

Music is key to this production. The selections are smart and pointed. From the previous mentioned Nick Cave song to a delightful Daft Punk cover that opens the second half. Of course, Wagner's famous "Tristan Chord" also makes an appearance. Luckily, it is used sparingly and to very great effect.

The play is a meditation on love, loss, and betrayal. And through this, somehow, the ensemble creates a sense of community that envelopes the audience. Over the course of the evening, we all become Lovespotters and witness the events with curiosity. Noses pressed to the glass. Who are these people that fall in love?

It's a bittersweet feeling that cannot adequately be described, but is also the brilliance of the show. You walk out feeling part of a community, even if it is a community of Unloved.

Tristan & Yseult, sponsored by ArtsEmerson, continues through March 15 at the Cutler-Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For more information the ArtsEmerson website.

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