Wednesday, March 11, 2015
ArtsEmerson Hits Another Homerun with "Tristan & Yseult" Presented by the UK's Kneehigh - Get Your Tickets Now!
"Welcome to the Cafe of the Unloved!" That is how the experience of Kneehigh's "Tristan & Yseult" begins. The band is stationed high above the stage, and the cast members assemble - sporting woolen hoods and binoculars - looking every bit like bird watchers and train spotters. And we are off on an epic journey to see the creatively re-imagined telling of the classic tale of the star-crossed lovers.
ArtsEmerson continues their impressive streak of bringing to Boston and to Boston area audiences gifted performers from around the globe. We are able to see things at an ArtsEmerson show that we may not otherwise even know exists in the world of theater, film and music. In this case, Kneehigh are a group of artists who hail from Cornwall, England. Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy have adapted the well known story of Tristan & Yseult, adding elements of whimsy, acrobatics, puppetry, original music composed by Stu Barker and snippets of Wagner's score from the opera he composed around the story of these two stealth lovers. Emma Rice directs a stellar cast, aided by a multi-level Set Design by Bill Mitchell, Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and Sound by Gregory Clarke.
We meet Whitehands (Kirsty Woodward) who functions as a sort of narrator and Greek chorus, commenting upon the action taking place among the other characters. Tristan (Dominic Marsh) arrives and gains the trust of King Mark (Stuart Goodwin) by helping him to defeat the invader, Frocin (Damon Daunno). King Mark sends Tristan off to find Frocin's sister and bring her back so that she can become his Queen. Complications ensue when Tristan finds Yseult and falls in love with her. Yseult's cousin/handmaiden is played with great hilarity by Niall Ashdown. Think of Juliet's nurse done in drag and you are beginning to get the picture. The other actors who play a variety of roles include Robert Luckay and Tom Jackson Greaves, aided by musicians Lizzy Westcott, Justin Radford, Pat Moran and James Gow.
An element that stood out for me in watching this show was the versatility of the performers - gifted in acting, movement, dance, music. Above all, it was clear that they were enjoying the experience of tell this story, and inviting us to enjoy it along with them. It was a special evening of theater.
Good art helps us to see familiar things or stories or circumstances in new ways. This production succeeds spectacularly in this way. I had a vague sense of the story of Tristan and Yseult, but not a deep appreciation for the complexities of the tale. Seeing this production and hearing snippets from Wagner's opera have served to make me want to delve more deeply into the operatic telling of this story.
The play will be presented though this Sunday, March 15, so I recommend you move quickly to procure your tickets.