What could be better than a tragic love story on a cold winter night? How about one that’s also funny, hot, and funky–and will still tear your heart out!? That’s KNEE HIGH’S TRISTAN & YSEULT now onstage at ArtsEmerson’s Cutler Majestic, fresh from the UK, and I do mean fresh. Kneehigh lives between Monty Python and grand opera. Here, they take this classic love triangle, mash up Wagner and Daft Punk– and WE get lucky! All at once we’re in the “Club of the Unloved,” with an onstage band playing accordion, string bass, percussion, with a sexy cast careening through the air and multiple roles, and we realize they’ve invaded our hearts and minds.
The legendary celtic tale adapted/directed by Emma Rice for maximum drama and clarity, and smartly written by Carl Grose & Anna Maria Murphy, stars Dominic Marsh as a lean, hungry Tristan lusting for the beautiful Irish princess Yseult, Hannah Vassallo. She’s destined to be the bride of Mark the conquering King of Cornwall, Stuart Goodwin, but a love potion mistakenly imbibed fuels the flames of Tristan and Yseult’s kinky chemistry. They dangle from ropes, roll in the deep, and whip up a cyclone of passion in the fallout of war. This isn’t going to end well.
At first I thought, I’m going to hate this. Too many gimmicks. Trying too hard. Too self-consciously “hip” and “modern.” But so fearlessly do they commit, so outrageously in command of style and tone, that I felt myself thrilling to their brilliantly elastic vision. This anarchic troupe scales the outer limits of theatricality, from the heights of hilarity to the depths of soul deep sorrow. I sat there and thought, “How did I get here? Why am I laughing one minute and crying the next?” The last moments are a breathtaking surge of angst erupting from a volcano of loss and frustration suffered by every lover who has ever died of a broken heart. It left me stunned and elated. DO NOT MISS KNEEHIGH’s TRISTAN & YSEULT through the ides of March!