Tristan and Yseult – Kneehigh at Bristol Old Vic

KNEEHIGH, the Cornish-based theatre company, has experienced mixed fortunes in recent years, but the revival of its 2003 production of Tristan and Yseult again confirms its status as one of the country’s most inventive.

One of the world’s greatest love stories has been reimagined by Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy and is told by the unattractive and unloved in a riot of pop songs, flying, passion, lunacy and heart-rending poignancy – the sort of show that ONLY Kneehigh knows how to pull off.

It is right that it should be indescribable, as words can’t do justice to the sensual assault of the production, directed by Emma Rice and staged by Bill Mitchell and the usual versatile team.

Every member of the cast (except one) starts off in a nerdy anorak and fraying balaclava, as the on-stage band plays songs of loss. The exception is Miss Whitehands, the nightclub singer and narrator, whose real role only becomes clear at the end.

King Mark of Kernow (reprised by the compelling Kneehigh founder Mike Shepherd) kills his enemy the preening king Morholt of Ireland, and as a final insult, vows to marry the woman a strand of whose hair Morholt carries round his neck.

Enter Tristan from France, and Mark and he form an immediate bond. Everyone loves Tristan.

The young man sets off on behalf of his new friend to find the woman whose hair was in the locket, and as soon as he sees Yseult, sister of Morholt, he loves her – and she loves him. Everyone loves Tristan.

The power of these performances, as each of the nondescript club members takes his or her moment in the bright warm glow of love, is astonishing, as the audience is buffeted and plummeted on a pinball machine of emotions.

Tristan Sturrock returns as Tristan, with Giles King as the nauseating Frocin and Craig Johnson as the extraordinarily touching Brangian.

New to the revived production are Carly Bawden as Whitehands and Patrycja Kujawska as Yseult, both taking to the Kneehigh ethos to the manor born.

Don’t miss this marvellous example of what it is that live theatre can uniquely provide, full of magic, fun, invention, passion and unforgettable moments.

Posted in Reviews on .