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Kneehigh's ‘Tristan & Yseult’ combines fabulous fun with epic love story

Kneehigh touring troupe from England stages brilliant production of "Tristan & Yseult" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through April 13.
Kneehigh touring troupe from England stages brilliant production of "Tristan & Yseult" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through April 13.
Photo by Steve Tanner

Tristan & Yseult


The current Kneehigh production of “Tristan & Yseult,” running at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, is an amazing, visual stunning and oddly enough, hysterically funny show. Don’t wait, because the last performance of this show at CST is April 13.

"Tristan & Yseult" runs through April 13 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp

The Kneehigh troupe of players from Cornwall, England somehow maintain the drama of the historic and complicated love triangle behind the two title characters and King Mark while adding hilarious characters and aerial acrobatics. This is a remarkable production that makes for a fabulous night of theater.

Even before the action begins, musicians are performing lounge-type songs in “The Club of the Unloved,” perched one level above the main stage. On the main floor, “lovespotters” use binoculars and take notes on the audience when they see people who appear to be in love, or not. It’s all great fun and an ideal fit for the Courtyard Theater at CST.

With a company filled with eight great actors, some of whom do double -duty as stage-based and aerial dancers, this production reminds audiences of Monty Python-like humorous antics that provide many side-splitting laughs. Remarkably, these players also keep the often tragic and sad story of war and love at its center.

Director and adapter Emma Rice has done a fabulous job of bringing a unique brand of ensemble storytelling to a Chicago stage. Combine that with a group of very talented and agile actors and audiences get to be part of the story of Cornwall King Mark (played with great strength and surprising tenderness by Stuart Goodwin) as he navigates the tumultuous waters of being a leader, of being in love and experiencing betrayal and forgiveness of a must human kind.

Etta Murfitt is terrific as Yseult, who finds herself in the depths of unexpected love for two very different men, King Mark and Tristan (Andrew Durand). Durand is fabulous in this role and brings his striking good looks and great athleticism to the stage.

Craig Johnson is hilarious as well as poignant in his cross-dressing portrayal of Yseult’s trusted servant and companion, Brangian. He also plays the Irish Morholt, the brother of Yseult who meets his death at the hands of Tristan as he comes to Mark’s side early in the show.

Carly Bawden is absolutely brilliant as Whitehands and often serves as singer and narrator of this fabulous show. She sees all, and recites this heart-wrenching truth near the end of the show: “It's hard to keep things white: Dirt loves it, blood loves it, sin loves it. If one were baptized in black, It would not show the dirt picked up along the way.”

Kneehigh’s “Tristan & Yseult” runs through April 13 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. For information and tickets visit the theater website or call 312-595-5600.