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Fall in love with Kneehigh Theatre’s ‘Tristan & Yseult’

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A group of actors all dressed identically in rain coats, knit hoods, and black-rimmed glasses stand around a circular stage and perform an awkward dance. These are the regulars at the Club of the Unloved.

The club, complete with a terrific house band playing live music, is the setting for the play “Tristan & Yseult” from visiting English company Kneehigh Theatre, which is running through Dec. 14 at St. Anne’s Warehouse in Dumbo. A long-time favorite with audiences in the United Kingdom, the production is a charming and poignant mediation on the havoc wreaked by love.

The play is based on the 19th century opera “Tristan und Isolde,” which was written by German composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner and was itself based on the 12th century story by Gottfried von Strassburg. Here, Kneehigh has employed a mish-mash of styles and anachronisms to create its own hilarious modern interpretation.

As in its earlier incarnations, Tristan (Dominic Marsh) is a French guy who travels the European countryside before coming to visit King Marke of Cornwall (Mike Shepherd), whom he believes might be his father. He becomes a trusted member of the king’s court and helps to slay an Irish rival. Marke then instructs Tristan to sail to Ireland to find his rival’s sister, Yseult (Hannah Vassallo), and bring her back to be his queen. Tristan, predictably, falls in love with Yseult, leading to a string of deceptive capers and even more broken hearts.

But while the names “Tristan” and “Yseult” are on the marquee, they are hardly the most interesting characters in the story. The main tale is something of a Trojan horse to explore the lives of a constellation of supporting characters, the forever unloved, who create the heart of the play.

And though the thesis statement of the play is serious, the message is delightfully told, with several layers of absurdist comedy and plenty of well-executed acrobatics and physical comedy thrown in for good measure.

In all, “Tristan & Yseult” is a delightful romp for the loved, the lonely hearts, the faint of heart — in fact, anyone who has seen what love can do and wants to laugh about it for a couple of hours.

“Tristan & Yseult” at St. Ann’s Warehouse [29 Jay St. between Plymouth and John streets in Dumbo, (718) 834–8794, www.stannswarehouse.org], now through Dec. 14, Tuesdays–Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets start at $40.

Updated 9:24 am, November 28, 2014
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