Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A love potion does the mischief that love potions do !
by Anna Maria Murphy & Carl Grose Adapted & Directed by Emma Rice

Tristan & Yseult

Kneehigh Theatre , Theatr Clwyd, Mold. , July-02-17
Tristan & Yseult  by Kneehigh Theatre Kneehigh are a company from Truro in Cornwall so how appropriate that they should be touring with a production based on a Cornish tale. Tristan is a French knight asked by the Cornish king Mark to escort back from Ireland his prisoner, soon to be wife, Yseult. But a love potion does the mischief that love potions do and the two fall in love leading, of course, to tragedy.

That's not a spoiler, the production begins with the end, and you may have an inkling by now that there is a close connection with an intensely romantic Richard Wagner opera, Tristan und Isolde.

However, this being Kneehigh, it is neither medieval nor grand opera, although it is highly operatic in its emotions. Also, although not in the usual way, in having a chorus. These are sad, anoraked figures who hang around with binoculars, love spotting. Truth to tell I found them an irritant except towards the end when almost the whole cast is absorbed into their ranks as love fails all around.

Enough negative feeling though, what this show has in droves is energy. Physical energy in its fights. Musical energy from its onstage band, who also play before the play and during the interval. Comic energy, particularly from Niall Ashdown whose female handmaiden Brangian is a hoot until the touching scene where "she" has to substitute for Yseult in Mark's bed.

And erotic energy too, particularly from Dominic Marsh's Tristan and Hannah Vassallo's Yseult as they writhe on floors, in the air, against poles and exude forbidden passion. Mike Shepherd is a dominating Mark, a man who seems to be composed only of strength but who melts into genuine love by the end but who cannot conquer a love potion.

My favourite though has to be the cynical, figure of Whitehands, elegantly played by Kirsty Woodward, whose revelation of her true identity near the end caught me entirely by surprise and twisted the love lorn knife even further.

It's ironic that the week before it visited Mold this ultimately rather glorious show should have been playing at Shakespeare's Globe from which venue the director of this, Emma Rice, has been ejected as their artistic director. I hope it went down a storm there.

Oh and we can't quite forget Wagner. It climaxes with a long extract from the Liebestod, the ecstatic Love/Death music that ends the opera and boy does it work here too.

Reviewed by: Victor Hallett

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