On Thursday the 4th of July, I was lucky enough to take my seat at The Bristol Old Vic to watch Kneehigh Theatre’s Tristan and Yseult. This is a tale of love in its many forms that has received rave reviews across the board, so I was excited to see what the night would bring.
Set in Cornwall, we are introduced to King Mark, who manages to resist Irish invaders to his land and defeat their leader Morholt. Mark then decides he wants revenge and to possess the thing Morholt loves most. He sends his most trusted knight Tristan to seek out and capture Morholt’s sister Yseult so he can make her his wife. The spark of passion is immediate when Tristan and Yseult first meet, but this soon gives way to hate when she realises Tristan is the killer of her brother. But neither of them banked on what would happen when a love potion and wine are recklessly consumed, and passion yet again takes hold.
The show is seen through the eyes of The Unloved, a group of comic characters so charming and nerdy that, ironically, you couldn’t help loving them. Wandering the stage and the auditorium with their binoculars, they observe the lovers, the betrayal and heartache, but perhaps their plight of being unloved is the most painful of all.
It is hard to pick out a standout performance with such a strong cast. Tristan Sturrock and Patrycja Kujawska were wonderful as the hedonistic, passionate, yet flawed Tristan and Yseult. Carly Bawden was magnificent as Whitehands, our narrator who led us through the story. However, if I had to be drawn, I would pick Craig Johnson’s cross dressing performance of Brangian, maid to Yseult as my favourite. This comedic character could have been one dimensional, but Johnson managed to bring surprising vulnerability and tenderness to the role when Brangian is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for Yseult.
A seamless blend of comedy, tragedy and high drama, with energetic dance routines and music that made me want to jump up out of my seat and dance. It shouldn’t work having a story about passion, betrayal and desire mixed with such physical comedy and sheer silliness, but Kneehigh seem to pull it off effortlessly. Tristan and Yseult was a riot for the senses, and I left wanting to see it again straight away. Sexy, funny, moving, heart wrenching and as near to perfect as anything I have seen on the stage. I left the theatre on a real high as it was practically impossible to not be swept away in the sheer exuberance of it all This is absolutely sensational theatre and I urge you to go and see it if you have the chance.
Tristan and Yseult? I am in love.
Tristan and Yseult is at Bristol Old Vic until July 20th
– Review by Karen Blake