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BWW Review: TRISTAN & YSEULT, Shakespeare's Globe


Another tale of doomed love continues Emma Rice's "Summer of Love" apace. Currently making its way around the country, Kneehigh's revival production of their much-beloved Tristan & Yseult weighs anchor at the Globe for a short run before continuing its UK tour. It sits somewhere in between concurrent productions Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, blending tragic romance with music, dance and comedy.

Cornwall's King Mark comes under attack from the Irish, but with the help of newly arrived Tristan he defeats them - and claims the Irish warrior's sister for his wife. Tristan is sent to find Yseult on King Mark's behalf, however after a mix-up with a love potion the pair end up falling in love with each other instead... Yseult duly marries the king on her arrival in Cornwall, all the while pursuing her affair with Tristan. When Frocin (King Mark's former right-hand man) discovers their secret, he doesn't hesitate to inform the king - will they pay with their lives, or will Mark be merciful?

As one might expect, this is in no way a traditional re-telling of the Arthurian story. This adaptation is framed by The Club of the Unloved; a band plays, and members wish to someday become the Beloved - until then, all they can do is look on. It is a mostly joyous affair, though splashed with drama and tinged with tenderness.

Bill Mitchell's set brings yet another new look to the Globe's stage, with a round platform at the centre and stairs from the centre of the balcony. Mitchell's costume design is equally interesting, with characters in a range of modern dress. The Unloved are all in anoraks, which seems to spring from them being like the trainspotters of the world of lovers: they can only watch, rather than participate.

Kneehigh's artistic director, Mike Shepherd, plays King Mark once more - he brings an authority to the monarch, as well as humanity when faced with losing his wife to a man he trusted implicitly. Niall Ashdown is a natural comic, playing both Morholt and Brangian (Yseult's maid) to great laughs, but is also genuinely touching as he joins The Club of the Unloved.

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo have a chemistry that fizzes, bringing verve and carefree abandon to the eponymous characters. They attack the choreography with passion, telling their story as much through dance as words.

It may not pack quite the emotional punch of, for example, Wagner's opera of the same story (some of which features in this production), but Emma Rice and Kneehigh certainly know how to make an enjoyable night out! Taking an innovative approach to storytelling, including a genuinely surprising reveal, the company weaves its spell over the audience and it is as potent as a love potion. I defy you to resist it.

Tristan & Yseult is at Shakespeare's Globe until 24 June

Picture credit: Steve Tanner

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From This Author Debbie Gilpin