note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Two hours of almost uninterrupted madcap fun awaits theatergoers attending Kneehigh of the United Kingdom’s celebrated performances of “Tristan & Yseult”, at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre.
Before the audience settles in, this energetic, wacky troupe serenades us from an upper corner of the stage, singing and playing tunes like “Love Hurts,” and “Dream Lover,” while others amble up the aisles, greeting theatergoers, shaking hands, taking notes, getting to know us.
The lights lower on stage. Our attention turns to the large contraption, with its bridge-like ramp, an upper right-hand platform for the four-piece band and a large, centrally-located circular platform. There’s also a tall pole and smaller,suspended disk-like platform, with wires and pulleys for elevating and lowering it.
At times, the actors are attached to wires and harnesses, ready to swing and be flung about later.
No, they don’t fly through the air like Mary Poppins or Peter Pan. Initially, they bounce up and down, with glee. They swing on a hammock, elevate and descend on that smaller circular disk. They march and walk on that bridge-type structure, make love, music, and do battle.
Thing is, there’s a timelessness to Kneehigh’s fractured presentation of tragic fable, “Tristan & Yseult”. The mythical story’s there, with all its love, murder, intrigue, betrayal, adultery, unrequited love, faithfulness, devotion, honor, and bliss, which happily unfurls with the performers’ theatric aplomb and playfulness.
Instead of wearing ancient garb, the group wears suits and sunglasses. Yon Irish, feisty, virgin Princess Yseult (Hannah Vassallo) wears frothy dresses with colorful crinolines underneath. And female narrator Whitehands, (Kirsty Woodward), dons a pillbox,sunglasses, gloves and pastel frock..
Ensemble performers, or “lovespotters,” introduce themselves as members of the Club of the Unloved, singing, wailing, and performing antics.
They’re always on stage. Even during intermission, they lead another sing-along, urging theatergoers to clap, sway, and sing, to which everyone willingly complies. Their joie de vivre is infectious. They also frequently turn the houselights on, encouraging our group participation in the action.
There’s Mark, the Cornish King, (Stuart Goodwin), a noble, kind-hearted, unloved leader who thinks he’s not good-looking. Showing a map, he declares Cornwall is the center of everything, then points to his neighboring countries, calling the Irish murderers.
Indeed, Morholt of Ireland intends to conquer Cornwall. We’re showered with paper proclamations as he declares Cornwall an Irish territory. Niall Ashdown is a mighty foe as Morholt and hilarious as Yseult’s faithful, homely, gangly, maidservant, Brangian.
But Morholt underestimates King Mark and his French itinerant hero, Tristan (Dominic Marsh) who washed ashore, from his little black-sail ship, in time to foil Morholt. They battle in a superbly choreographed scene, Tristan slays Morholt, who is wearing a large heart necklace with a single strand of his sister Yseult’s chestnut hair in it. Mark falls in love with that strand, and sends Tristan to find the owner, so he can wed her and make her his queen.
But Tristan and Yseult fall in love. They make love. Unwittingly, Mark marries Yseult, with much pomp and pageantry. We celebrate, too, blowing up white balloons, then releasing them.
Later, Mark’s jealous aide, Frocin, (Damon Daunno), exposes the lovers, breaking Mark’s heart. He banishes them. And you, minions of loved and unloved, must see this unforgettable production to learn the rest of the story
BOX INFO: ArtsEmerson:the World on Stage welcomes Kneehigh of Cornwall, U.K., and its two act celebrated performances of “Tristan & Yseult”, written by Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy; music composed by Stu Barker; directed and adapted by Emma Rice, appearing through March 15, at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre , 221 Tremont St., Boston: March 10-12, at 7:30 p.m.; March 13, at 8 p.m.; March 14, at 2,8 p.m.; March 15, at 2 p.m. Tickets, $25-$89; group, senior, student discounts available. Call 617-824-8400 or visit www.artsemerson.org.