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Star-Crossed Punk Lovers

After the rapturous reception of its production, The Wild Bride, it's no wonder that Kneehigh Theater's Tristan & Yseult is shaping up to be one of the most eagerly anticipated offerings this fall.

First staged 10 years ago in a ruined medieval castle in Cornwall, the show made Kneehigh's reputation as one of the most innovative theater troupes in Britain (and that's saying something). "We're middle-aged now," says director Emma Rice, "so it feels deeper." Not to mention rambunctious, sexy, and heartbreaking. Here are Rice's three key ingredients for rebooting a classic Celtic legend.

Plots and Schemes: King crushes rival's army then falls in love with rival’s sister, who falls in love with the guy sent to bring her back to marry the king. Love potions figure promi- nently. Also sex—wild, acrobatic sex. And fistfights. Like Tristan, Kneehigh hails from Cornwall, Rice points out, so the story “is one that we feel very strongly about.”

Easy Listening: You'll hear some Wagnerian strains, but also Roy Orbison, Bob Marley, and Joe Jackson. “It’s like a punk rock show,” says Rice, “but so tenderly told.”

A Group Activity: The chorus, or the Love Spotters and the Unloved, as Rice calls them, wear raincoats and boots and observe the action through binoculars, like bird-watchers, enduring the besottedness of others while feeling left out.

November 22 to January 6, 2014 at Berkeley Rep.


Originally published in the November 2013 issue of San Francisco

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