Tristan and Yseult. Yseult and Tristan. Tristan, Tristan, Tristan…
I’ll admit it. I’m totally smitten by actor Tristan Sturrock, who plays the hero of the latest Kneehigh show to reach Bristol Old Vic. And as a leading love interest, Sturrock is more than perfectly cast – sharp cheek bones, nicely toned arms, and a devilishly handsome face. My heart has melted.
I thought it was best we cleared that up from the start, and then moved on with the real review of Kneehigh’s most well loved show, which is touring again to celebrate ten years since Tristan and Yseult first delighted audiences around the globe.
Bristol Old Vic’s press officer and I were chatting about our shared love of Kneehigh before the show. “Nobody ever forgets their first Kneehigh show”, she told me. And I agreed, adding that my first Kneehigh show was The Red Shoes in 2010… peering down from the Old Vic’s nosebleed seats, utterly mesmerised by the fantastic spectacle.
The star of The Red Shoes was Patrycja Kujawska, who tonight returns as Yseult – our love-struck heroine. And with Tristan Sturrock as her lover Tristan, Kneeigh founder Mike Shepherd as her brother King Mark, and the mesmerising Carly Bawden as the leader of the unloved, the casting was as strong as you would demand from a Kneehigh show.
The multi-layered set for Tristan and Yseult resembles a circus ring, with the stepped floor on the stage, acrobatic pulleys, and rising platforms, as well as sails and sheets flying up and down the stage. And as the audience files in, we’re entertained by nightclub singer Whitehands (Bawden) on the stage, and her flock of anorak-bedecked trainspotters popping up in the audience and on the side of the stage – searching through binoculars not for wildlife, but for love.
As the story unfolds, we find Cornish King Mark battling to protect his country from Irish invader Branigan (Craig Johnson). However, he’s quickly slain by elegant Frenchman Tristan (Sturrock), who conveniently happens to be passing (“he’s the prince of hearts and the kings of oceans”, as one character swoons).
When King Mark said to Tristan, “I don’t know who you are, but I recognise you”, I wanted to yell out: “He’s Peter Pan!” But I restrained myself. Even when Sturrock was recreating his festive Lost Boy acrobatics on ropes and pulleys.
Believing he is exacting the ultimate revenge on his dead nemesis, King Mark issues Tristan with a quest to hunt down Branigan’s beloved sister Yseult and bring her to Cornwall to be King Mark’s bride.
Well, you can imagine what happens. Tristan and Yseult fall head over heels in passionate love, despite the most hilarious efforts of Yseult’s maid (Johnson again – doing a magnificent impersonation of Tubbs in A League of Gentlemen) to keep them apart.
A little part of me found it hard to feel sorry for King Mark, who is heartbroken to discover Yseult is in love with Tristan. I mean, this is a man who only hunted Yseult down to spite the memory of her beloved brother… whom King Mark had killed. I mean, this is a man who forced a woman to marry a man she had never met, giving her no choice in the matter, and expected her to love him unconditionally. Did he really think that would work out well?!
However, don’t stop to dwell on that sort of thing, and just let yourself be swept up in the ride. Tristan and Yseult has everything – puppetry, mime, fire, blood, balloons, boats and sunglasses. And Tristan Sturrock. If you didn’t already love him, you certainly will now.
Tristan and Yseult made me feel joyful, tearful, and appreciative of my own happy relationship. Just go and see it. (If this was the sort of site that lowered itself to rate things out of 10, Tristan and Yseult would receive 20.)
Tristan and Yseult is at the Bristol Old Vic until July 20. Please do anything you can to grab a ticket. Information on this link.