Last night, I saw the first preview of the British theatre company Kneehigh's production of Tristan and Yseult at St. Ann's Warehouse. This is a story near and dear to my heart, and the production is well worth seeing.
Writers Anna Maria Murphy and Carl Grose stay mostly faithful to the ancient celtic legend, though the dress is modern, as is the music. Wagner, of course, must rear his head, as the obligatory strains of Tristan und Isolde ring through the theatre, but the audience is more likely to hear pop songs played by the band at "The Club of the Unloved."
Band members, who serve as a chorus of sorts, wear knitted hoods, that if looked at sideways, could almost be mistaken for chain mail. They profess to be merely Lovespotters, observers who hold love at arm's length and never engage in strong emotion themselves. Leading these loveless souls, and narrating the play, is Whitehands, the Yseult of the Fair Hands in the legend, played magnificently in this production by Kristy Woodward. Dressed in white and wearing dark sunglasses, Whitehands remains both detached from the action and cynically engaged with everything that happens.
While the Lovespotters hold love at arm's length, we in the audience cannot. Dominic Marsh plays a Frenchified Tristan, while Hannah Vassallo is the chestnut-haired beauty who captures his heart. When they fall in love, they literally fly through the air, leaping and swinging on cables suspended above the stage. Director Emma Rice choreographs the aeronautics brilliantly, and we cannot help but be caught up in the ecstasy of the moment.
Of course, Yseult has a husband, King Mark of Cornwall, sympathetically played by Mike Shepherd. Traditionally, Mark is Sir Tristan's uncle, but in this version, the play implies he is the knight's natural father. In any case, he clearly loves Tristan with a fatherly love, making the betrayal all that more painful.
Tristan and Yseult is playing until December 14th. For more information, go here:
St. Ann's Warehouse