Chicago Theatre Review
Love with a Twist
Tristan & Yseult
As audiences arrive for this unexpectedly quirky, magically charged production they are given a balloon to inflate and release during the play’s impending wedding scene. By participating in the play’s festivities, the theatre goer develops a vested interest in the story. A whimsical, dark hoodied and bespectacled ensemble roams the stage and aisles, resembling Dr. Gru’s Minions from the animated hit, “Despicable Me.” They offer, along with the four-piece band and a chanteuse named Whitehands (for her immaculate gloves which she wears to accessorize her 1960’s era yellow suit and pillbox hat) a modern, offbeat beginning to this mythic tale that began as a 12th century French poem.
Cornish King Mark sends his adopted “son” and best friend Tristan to fetch Yseult, the sister of the Irish warrior he slew, in order to become his queen. The audience can sense conflict when the young people are slipped a potion that makes them fall in love with each other. As the story unfolds and audiences can foretell the tragedy to come, they also recognize that this story formed the basis for Camelot’s Arthurian love triangle about the English King, his favorite knight, Lancelot and his Queen Guinevere. The tale also inspired other stories, works of art, ballets and musical compositions, such as Wagner’s opera, “Tristan und Isolde.” But nothing can prepare audiences for this brilliantly creative Kneehigh production, now in a limited run at CST.
Adapted and directed by Emma Rice, this British production is filled with swashbuckling battles, unexpected aerial ballets, colorful costuming, bizarre characters and is infused with dance and music, from classical to rock ‘n roll. The result is a delightful retelling of a familiar story that dials down the pageantry and ratchets up the humor and heroics. Never fear, however: the romance is still present and while tasteful, it’s almost erotic at times.
The cast is truly an ensemble with every member having his own moment in the spotlight. Carly Bawden keeps the proceedings running smoothly as Whitehands, surprisingly more than an emcee, but also a key figure in the plot. Stuart Goodwin’s King Mark is masterful and tragic as the warrior who, through no fault of their own, is duped by his lady and his lad. As Tristan, Andrew Durand is handsome and sexy, providing the requisite eye candy as he shirtlessly struts about the stage. Etta Murfitt is a pixie-like Yseult with all the fire and passion of Ireland. Craig Johnson is hilarious in two roles and Giles King makes an excellent Frocin.
This production is one people will be asking their friends if they’ve seen and unfortunately, because of its short stay in Chicago, the answer may be, “No, I missed it.” Don’t! This funny, romantic, inventive retelling of a familiar story will be a theatrical experience that audiences who recognize an excellent opportunity for enjoyment and new experiences will always remember with fondness.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 2-13 by the Kneehigh Theatre Company of Cornwall England at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Courtyard Stage.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-595-5600 or by going to www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatrerinchicago.com