You can always count on Kneehigh Theatre for a whimsical treat for the soul.
When I first heard St. Ann’s was presenting the theatre company Kneehigh’s production of Tristan & Yseult, I jumped at the opportunity to go. Plus I got to see it with Shannon, one of my favorite people, who was visiting from Chicago last week (to launch Brontosaurus Haircut Productions!). Kneehigh’s style is right up our alley so we were eager to drink in the performance. I’m sorry to say that the run ended on Sunday night, so unfortunately I can’t recommend that you go see it (slash I’ll keep this brief). But here’s the trailer to give you a taste.
One of the reasons I’m drawn to Kneehigh is their seamless threading of storytelling with dance, music, and physicality. It’s consistently innovative, exciting, and unexpected. I got to see Brief Encounter at Roundabout Theatre Company in 2010, and while I don’t recall specifics (except the swinging on chandeliers), I definitely remember how it made me feel. I remember being awed, thrilled, and challenged by the acrobatics, ideas, and designs. It was simply beautiful (here’s the clip reel).
Their newest production is the story of Tristan and Yseult, your classic case of star-crossed lovers. We are greeted by a group of self-declared “Lovespotters,” who also introduce themselves as the unloved in this world. They are all dressed in uniform track jackets, hoods up, carrying around notepads and binoculars as they search for signs of love (this ensemble also doubles as the characters of the main story). I loved the unloved. They were like the minions in “Despicable Me” – working in unison, saying random things, singing and stomping around, and called names like Steve and Kenneth. They’ve also been known to croon sappy love songs and modern pop songs with the kick-ass band at the Club of the Unloved.
Even though I can’t recommend this particular play, I can tell you to keep your eye out for Kneehigh shows. We went on a journey of love, heartbreak, song, and dance as these characters sailed on ships, battled, and flew in the air. The storytelling is quirky and light until you realize just how heavy-hearted things can be.
Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult
Written by Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy, Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice
St. Ann’s Warehouse, Closed December 14, 2014
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo
Up until the current production of Analog.Ue at St. Ann’s Warehouse, I had never heard of Daniel Kitson. He’s known as an English stand-up comedian as well as a playwright and monologist. At the heart, Kitson is a storyteller. After seeing his show, I departed a fan of his stories but not so much of this particular rendition.
Would you like some context? So a light comes up on a table far upstage covered in old-school tape recorders, reel-to-reel players, etc. The particular story being shared with us is entirely pre-recorded, and Kitson slowly but surely brings forward each player, hooks it up to a central circuit board, and plays the next section of the story. He often switches back and forth between a couple players, but primarily he moves on to the next piece of the story with a new piece of equipment.
In these one-to-two-minute increments, we learn about Thomas, an 80-year-old man, who has decided to record his life story at the encouragement of his wife of 40 years. He gets settled in his garage with plenty of snacks and surrounded by dozens of recorders. Meanwhile, this narrative is also spliced with tales of a young woman named Trudy. It’s years later and she happens to own one of Thomas’s tapes and has spent years trying to find the man whose voice she has listened to since childhood. While the story is appealing in itself, it takes a while to get going. The running time is approximately 75 minutes, fluctuating due to the technical problems that may crop up. In fact, it was during the technical difficulties that I was most amused. Kitson’s anecdotes and interjections to fill the pauses were quite amusing and made light of the reality.
It’s a very interesting idea, but the actual execution didn’t hold my interest. Sitting in a dark room with minimal physical activity and lighting makes it difficult to stay present (and awake). With only auditory stimulation, you might be asking yourself: couldn’t this be a podcast? Let’s check in with my theatre companions for that evening. Allison (my bro’s gf) wasn’t too pleased. She has seen Kitson’s work before and was disappointed he didn’t talk to us. His storytelling is his MO, and we didn’t get to see it. Jeff (my bro), on the other hand, kept arguing the point that this is the only way the story can be told! Maybe you should go and decide for yourself. Personally I don’t think it’s enough. While it is an intriguing experiment in technology and audio devices, I found myself counting how many recorders were left on the table.
Written by Daniel Kitson
St. Ann’s Warehouse through December 21st
I was very excited to see the all-female production of Julius Caesar at St. Ann’s Warehouse, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and brought over from the Donmar Warehouse (a fantastic theatre in London). I know that sentence sounds like a set up for the show being disappointing. And it wasn’t, but at the same time, I also wasn’t as blown away as I’d hoped to be. Perhaps I went in with expectations too high. This happens to me more often than I’d like.
But after thinking it over since this particular Halloween outing last Thursday, I think the underlying issue is that I am simply not a big fan of the play. Is that sacrilegious to say, Shakespeare fan that I am? Caesar has never done much for me as a reader or audience member. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I keep coming up relatively empty. Is it because I have trouble relating to the story? Do I not sympathize with any of the characters? Unclear.
Given that the story bores me, this production did a pretty decent job of holding my attention. First off, it is set in an all-female prison #orangeisthenewblack. The audience is escorted by extremely stern guards (ushers) into a sterile prison of pipes and scaffolding and lectured about how to behave before being led to our seats. I love this kind of thing – immediately transporting us into a new environment and setting the scene before we even take our seats.
These (very talented) women tell the iconic story that we know so well, straying only occasionally from the classical text for a handful of contemporary references (e.g. the prophecy of Caesar’s demise is a Libra horoscope). They have a fantastic grasp of the language, and they also stick to all of the original pronouns, referring to each other as men. This is typically a very male-heavy show, but it should be noted that the power or strength of that overwhelming testosterone is not lost with this cast.
Lloyd plays with the location and convention of the prison throughout but not as much as I would have liked. These were the moments that particularly grabbed me and made me sit forward in my seat – the recognition and awareness of the surrounding reality, like in Alan Cumming’s Macbeth. If anything, this switched things up from the standard plot. Whether or not the play does anything for me though, the cast is fantastic, and you get the feeling when the show ends that there is still more story to be told.
Fun side note: I should mention that at one point during the show, during the big senate scene I believe, all of a sudden I noticed someone sitting upstage in one of the chairs. After a little while, I thought to myself, is that person a part of the show? That doesn’t look like a woman. Yup, that’s a man…holding a program – an audience member who somehow managed to take a seat within the set and then sat there for close to 15 minutes, from Caesar’s death scene (spoiler alert) up through Mark Antony’s huge monologue. He was practically one of the conspirators. Hi-larious.
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
St. Ann’s Warehouse through November 9th
Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
Pictured: Harriet Walter