Review: Tristan & Yseult, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Tristan & Yseult
Tristan & Yseult
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For heightened emotional drama, you can’t beat a good love triangle – and Kneehigh’s seminal work Tristan & Yseult, first created ten years ago and now back in Leeds to launch a UK tour, is one of the best there is.

A powerful, playful and totally compelling piece of theatre it combines romance, humour, movement and music with moments of heart-wrenching poignancy.

The Cornish King Mark, presiding over the ancient kingdom of Kernow, unexpectedly falls in love with Yseult, the sister of his sworn enemy, but she also loves and is loved by enigmatic French traveller Tristan whom Mark has embraced almost like an adopted son. Thus the play explores with great sensitivity, wit and spot-on observation ‘the harm that love can do’.

Framing the story of the doomed lovers is the equally engaging tale of a sad group of anorak-clad, balaclava and specs-wearing, nerdy ‘unloved’ who chart, trainspotter-style, the romance of the protagonists. They long to be loved and to experience the kind of passion that they witness as Tristan and Yseult’s tragedy unfolds – but their fate is to remain on the sidelines.

It’s a polished ensemble piece – every performance, without exception, is excellent – and all the hallmarks of Kneehigh’s imaginative approach are there including a joyful and inventive piece of audience participation in the wedding ceremony between Mark and Yseult before the interval. The music – both Stu Barker’s original score and the borrowed excerpts from Wagner – is the icing on the cake. Unmissable.

To June 22