Things are swinging down at the Club of the Unloved in the Cornwall based Kneehigh company's audacious pop-tastic reworking of the oldest love story in the world. The balloons are out and a chorus of balaclava and cagoule clad 'love-spotters' are trying out their chat up lines in vain. The music comes from a retro-styled record player at the front of the stage and a junkyard house band that plays all the heart-breakers and more.
When a gang of hard-men are kicked into touch, French-speaking Tristan goes on a cruise to Ireland to bring back the ring-leader's sister Yseult for the ruling King Mark. Under the influence of a heady brew, Tristan and Yseult fall head over heels, as is related by Kirsty Woodward's Jackie Kennedy-alike narrator, Whitehands. Inevitable tragedy ensues, but not before a melee of slapstick inspired routines explodes into riotous life.
In Emma Rice's circus-styled revival of a production first seen in 2003, Dominic Marsh's Tristan is a shades-sporting pin-up and Hannah Vassallo's Yseult a vivacious independent woman. Niall Ashdown's cross-dressing turn as Brangian, meanwhile, is a comic masterclass that would give Mrs Brown's Boys a run for its money. With twelve people on designer Bill Mitchell's circular wooden stage, there are shades here too of period sit-com Up Pompeii! Or Up Penzance! if you will.
Nothing is black and white here, however, and the darkening of tone in the second half comes with the wedding night itself, as all passion is spent following the ultimate betrayal. What follows, as Whitehands makes clear, is a lot of leftover love that makes for two very different halves of a magnificent caper.
The Herald, June 1st 2017