Kneehigh Theatre Company’s shows have all been met with critical acclaim, both around the United Kingdom and internationally. Its dark and comic approach to rich storytelling sets it apart from other theatre companies, and allows it to truly draw in its audience members. Its play Tristan and Yseult at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, first performed in the summer of 2003 in Cornwall, is certainly no exception: it is a tale of love, passion and determination, and is done so in such a way that you genuinely believe the madcap antics that take place in the story.
As audience members, we underestimate the power that music can have during a performance; in most works of theatre, music is rarely used, so that we can focus mainly on the characters and the narrative. Tristan and Yseult, however, does the opposite and brings in as much live music as it can. For me, this really engaged me in the performance, and I found myself captivated by the way in which the music connected with the story and helped to convey an enchanting and mysterious world quite different from our own. The music did not take the attention away from the main characters, either; the musicians were part of the world in the play, and you genuinely believed they were a patchwork band made up of miserable souls looking for love.
The story itself was interesting: Kneehigh is known for creating works inspired by folk tales and myths, with Tristan and Yseult being based on the popular folk legend of the same name. The energy was consistently high throughout, with the actors of the company giving memorable performances, including the ensemble of Love Spotters, which never failed to make me laugh as they not only played a part in the story, but also awkwardly fumbled through the audience trying to quench their thirst for love.
This brings me to my next point – the relationship between the audience and the play itself. The characters occasionally broke the fourth wall and made a connection with the audience, most notably during the interval. I went to go and get myself a drink and returned to the theatre only to be greeted by the patchwork band and their leader putting together a hilarious cabaret at their club, which included a particularly memorable cover of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’.
I feel that Kneehigh’s Tristan and Yseult is how theatre should be; the company managed to create a completely different world from our own and immersed the audience in it with what seemed like minimal effort. The quirky characters and right mix of comedy and drama throughout the script, along with the live music and dance scenes made the entire piece engaging. By actually immersing the audience in the piece, it became very easy to grow attached to the characters and understand the plotline, which had numerous different twists and turns.
This is certainly worth seeing. I don’t feel that there has been a piece of theatre I have seen this year that could possibly be better than this. It is warm, engaging and utterly irresistible.