Tristan and Yseult

If history is written by the winners, love stories are generally told by losers. Love, after all, never ends well. The story of Tristan and Yseult is told here by White Hands, the leader of the chorus of Love Spotters, the unloved, who bumble about the theatre dressed in anoraks and balaclavas. Losers. But most of the time, the lovers aren’t much better off. ‘I was born in sorrow, for pity’s sake,’ Tristan tells anyone who will listen. As the champion of Cornwall’s King Mark, he is sent to Ireland to bring back the vanquished Morholt’s sister Yseult to be Mark’s queen.

You know the rest, even if you don’t. On the 8th of November we went to see a Kneehigh Theatre production called Tristan and Yseult, at The Lowry. It was written by Carl Grose and Anna Maria-Murphey and directed by Emma Rice. It was a tragic comedy, and used physical theatre. I perceived its aims to be to entertain the audience, and make them feel involved and a part of the production. It made you feel very emotional and involved in the love Tristan and Yseult had for each other. To be in this play you had to have a variety of skills.

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The actors all had to be multi talented; most of them played more than one person. The talents needed were dance, singing, be able to play an instrument, be able to do choreographed dance, speak other languages e. g. French, and be physically confident. The play was asking a lot of the performers. The first performer I am going to look at is Craig Johnson. He plays the parts of three characters; a member of the unloved, a nurse, and a King. On each of his roles he had to portray different character traits.

As a member of the Unloved, he is shy and timid, his moves are awkward and it seems he is not at ease with his own body. The Love Spotters meanwhile are obsessed with love; but they are consumers of love stories, not participants, not even as unrequited lovers. Love is ‘at arm’s length’ for them. His moves are shifty, quick and uneasy. He made us feel like we want to love him, and want to reassure him. We could put ourselves into his shoes, as we have all felt lonely at some point in our life. He was dressed like a typical ‘train spotter’, and looked very sad and lonely.

His voice was falsetto and it was thin and reedy. When playing a part of the unloved, he really did make us feel sorry for him. Craig Johnson’s second character was a king. For this he adopted an Irish accent, and spoke quickly. As this role he was arrogant and made bold moves, he knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted. As he was a King he was powerful and brutal. This character is in total contrast to his character as a member of the unloved, he was very outgoing person create this persona of himself he spoke down a microphone directly to the audience.

As he spoke down the microphone his voice was louder than everyone else present on the stage. His use of space and movement were also very certain. He walked across the stage and did moves to show he was the most powerful on the stage; he did little skips to show his confidence. As an audience we liked him, he was charming and made us laugh. He let us join in on what he was doing and kept us focused on him constantly. For this part he used his physical skills to stage an unrealistic fight. Johnsons next role was my favourite character.

Craig Johnson as Yseult’s maid Brangian is a star of the production, and has particular fun with the love potion scene, urging the soon-to-be-lovers not to mix up Yseult’s potion (to help her face marriage with a man she has never seen) with Tristan’s wine. For this role he wears a dress, and a headscarf, the directors made it so obvious that he was a man dressing as a woman, it was very stereotypical. When he entered the stage he entered via a trampoline, this was repeated so many times, but each time it made the audience erupt with laughter.

He stiffened when he jumped on, captured the moment by posing mid-air and then landed. His voice was a higher pitch than that of the other characters he played. When speaking he projected his voice well, and to make it more realistic he made eye contact with audience members. He stirred emotion in the audience. He had the power to make us want to cry and then a second later burst out laughing, he had control of our emotions. One example of this is when he said ‘ A queen isn’t going to take my place’; this made us feel full of pity for him, then after that when he was preparing for sex with King Mark he made us laugh again.

When she lost her virginity to the queen, at first it made us laugh and question ‘how could he mistake her for Yseult? ‘ but then she broke our hearts when the king didn’t recognise her the next morning when she went to reach out for him but then restrained herself, and realising she was used. As this character he evoked so many emotions; sadness, joy, laughter, guilt and shock. The second actor I will look at was Tristane Sturrock who plays Tristane. Tristane had to be handsome so Sturrock fitted the role well.

He also had to be unique, passionate, confidant and give of the impression he would never be unloved. Whilst on the stage he was confident and graceful, he used the stage in so many ways, he used it to fight, to sail (via a hammock), have love scenes (via pullys) and to die at the very end. On his first scene he had to fight King Morhort, Yseult’s father, and kill him. This fight was staged to look unrealistic. He showed no fear in any aspect of the play, either when fighting, or sleeping with his fathers’ wife/fianci??.

He seemed a very calm, funny, laid back character until his fathers wedding. The atmosphere happy and joyful and he was dancing with Yseult, but then he had to make a speech and he went extremely serious. When he was serious he made no eye contact, he looked down, his voice became monotonous, it seemed like he had lost life he said ‘I have seen all grief death and war and never cried but I cannot bare to look at her take his hand’ when saying this he broke our hearts, but just like before, only seconds later were we laughing again.

To play Tristane you would need physical strength, physical confidence and show no fear on the stage. He also had to be attractive to audience members. None of these however were enough for Tristanes’ happy ending, the man, who could never become unloved, became unloved. Overall my favourite character was Nurse Brangian played by Craig Johnson, he just had the power to capture all our emotions, and manipulate them to make us feel for him, either happy or sad.