Tristan & Yseult

Tristan & Yseult Tristan & Yseult Tristan & Yseult Tristan & Yseult

Tristan & Yseult

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice
Writers: Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy
Main Season · Roda Theatre
November 22, 2013–January 18, 2014
West Coast premiere

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Kneehigh is back! Britain’s beloved theatre company returns to the Bay Area with a glorious story of love. King Mark rules with his head, until he falls head over heels for his enemy’s sister. Based on an ancient tale from Cornwall, Tristan & Yseult revels in forbidden desires, broken hearts, grand passions, and tender truths. It’s another marriage of gorgeous music and ingenious staging from the acclaimed creators of Brief Encounter and The Wild Bride. Embrace comedy and spontaneity in this West Coast premiere for an irresistible night of love!

Tristan & Yseult uses haze and fog effects. Berkeley Rep offers an advisory about any stage effect of potential concern to patrons’ health. We don’t offer advisories about subject matter, as sensitivities vary from person to person. If you have any concerns about content, please contact the box office.

Production co-sponsor

Mechanics Bank Wealth Management

Season sponsors

BARTSan Francisco Chronicle / SFGate.comWells Fargo

Tristan & Yseult calendar

Open captioningPartial support for open captioning provided by Theatre Development Fund

Creative team

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Emma Rice · Adaptor / Director

Emma is the joint artistic director of Kneehigh and worked on The Red Shoes, The Wooden Frock, The Bacchae, Tristan & Yseult, Cymbeline (in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company), A Matter of Life and Death (Royal National Theatre in association with Kneehigh), Rapunzel (in association with Battersea Arts Centre), Brief Encounter (a David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers Production in association with Kneehigh), Don John (in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Bristol Old Vic), Midnight’s Pumpkin, The Wild Bride, Wah! Wah! Girls (with Sadler’s Wells, Theatre Royal Stratford East for World Stages), and Steptoe and Son. Emma’s other work includes the West End production of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Oedipussy for Spymonkey, and The Empress for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Carl Grose · Writer

Carl has worked extensively with Kneehigh for the past 17 years as both a writer and an actor. His writing for Kneehigh includes Quick Silver, Tristan & Yseult, The Bacchae, Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy, Blast!, Cymbeline, and Hansel & Gretel. Carl has also written for BBC TV and Radio, Vesturport, Told by an Idiot, o-region, Spymonkey, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the National Theatre. His plays include Grand Guignol, Superstition Mountain, 49 Donkeys Hanged, Gargantua, and Horse Piss for Blood. Carl is currently writing shows for Bristol Old Vic, the National Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a new version of The Beggar’s Opera for Kneehigh.

Anna Maria Murphy · Writer

Anna is a long-term member of Kneehigh, latterly as a writer for shows including Tristan & Yseult with Carl Grose, The Red Shoes, Don John (Royal Shakespeare Company), and Midnight’s Pumpkin. She has also worked for Cscape Dance Company, Theatre Alibi, Rogue Theatre, and BBC Radio 4, among others. Most recently she has written for Little Angel Theatre in association with Kneehigh for A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings as well as If the Shoe Fits for Cscape. She is lead artist in Kneehigh’s Rambles Program, working with young people and communities, and has been walking the roads less travelled in Cornwall for the last three years collecting, reinventing, and exaggerating stories heard on the way. This culminated in a show called Kneehigh Rambles and a story app.

Bill Mitchell · Design

Bill was artistic director of Kneehigh from 1995 to 2005 where he worked on many shows, including The Red Shoes, Tristan & Yseult, and The Wild Bride. In 2005 he created his own company WildWorks to experiment and develop his passion for landscape theatre and site-specific work internationally. He has led the company to make A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez; Souterrain, an international version of the Orpheus myth; The Beautiful Journey, a telling of Homer’s Odyssey; the acclaimed Enchanted Palace at the request of Kensington Palace; Babel; and The Passion of Port Talbot with Michael Sheen and National Theatre Wales, which won him the Theatrical Management Association’s Director of the Year award. Bill is an honorary fellow of Falmouth University.

Malcolm Rippeth · Lighting Design

Malcolm has been working with Kneehigh since 2002, and his highlights include The Wild Bride, Brief Encounter, The Red Shoes, Nights at the Circus, Don John, Wah! Wah! Girls, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. His other favorite work includes The Empress at the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Dead at Abbey Theatre, Spur of the Moment at the Royal Court Theatre, The Promise at Donmar Warehouse, Six Characters in Search of an Author on the West End, West Side Story at the Sage Gateshead, Decade with Headlong Theatre at St. Katharine Docks, The Birthday Party at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, H.M.S. Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater, London for Paines Plough, Stones in his Pockets at Tricycle Theatre, His Dark Materials at Birmingham Rep, Refugee Boy at West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Bloody Chamber at Northern Stage, Copenhagen at Edinburgh Royal Lyceum, La Nuit Intime with balletLORENT, Tutti Frutti at National Theatre of Scotland, and The Devil Inside Him at National Theatre Wales. His lighting design for Brief Encounter was awarded the Theatregoer’s Choice Award in London, an Obie Award in New York, and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award on Broadway.

Gregory Clarke · Sound Design

Gregory’s work with Kneehigh includes Tristan & Yseult with the National Theatre. His West End credits include Our Boys, Goodnight Mister Tom, The Vortex, Some Girls, Waiting for Godot, The Dresser, Amy’s View, You Never Can Tell, A Flea in Her Ear, National Anthems, Six Degrees of Separation, Betrayal, and Abigail’s Party. He has also designed The Doctor’s Dilemma, Misterman, Twelfth Night, No Man’s Land, The Emperor Jones, and Earthquakes in London for the National Theatre; The Heart of Robin Hood, Great Expectations, Coriolanus, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Tantalus, Cymbeline, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company; The Philanthropist, A Voyage Round My Father, and The Silence of the Sea at Donmar Warehouse; The Seagull at Headlong; My Perfect Mind at the Young Vic; In the Beginning Was the End with dreamthinkspeak; Pygmalion and The Philanthropist in New York; and DruidMurphy, Penelope, The Hackney Office, and The New Electric Ballroom at Druid Theatre Company. Gregory received a Drama Desk Award for Journey’s End at the Duke of York’s Theatre and a Tony Award for Equus at the Gielgud Theatreand on Broadway.

Helen Atkinson · Associate Sound Design

Helen was an associate designer for DruidMurphy at the Druid Theatre; Misterman by Enda Walsh with Landmark Productions at the National Theatre, Galway Arts Festival, and in New York; and Out of Joint’s Convict’s Opera (UK tour). She sound designed 1001 Nights at Unicorn Theatre; Mr Whatnot and A Christmas Carol at Theatre Royal Northampton; L’Orfeo at Silent Opera; Mark Thomas’ Bravo Figaro at the Traverse Theatre and on the UK tour; You’ll see [me sailing in Antarctica] with Non Zero One at the National Theatre’s InsideOut Festival; Elegy at Transport Theatre; Of Mice and Men at the Watermill Theatre; and Cheek by Jowl’s Macbeth (international tour). Helen was the production engineer on the international tours of Complicité’s Disappearing Number and Cheek by Jowl’s Troilus & Cressida, as well as for productions at the National Theatre and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Stu Barker · Composer

Stu has worked extensively as composer and musical director with Kneehigh over the last 16 years on shows including A Matter of Life and Death, Tristan & Yseult, Brief Encounter (on the West End and Broadway), Cymbeline, Don John, Hansel & Gretel, The Bacchae, The Wooden Frock, Nights at the Circus, The Red Shoes, The Wild Bride, Rapunzel, Pandora’s Box, and Midnight’s Pumpkin. He has also worked as a composer and musical director for Shakespeare’s Globe, Bristol Old Vic, Donmar Warehouse, Welfare State International, Contact Theatre, Liverpool Lantern Company, Travelling Light, and Horse + Bamboo. Recently Stu has been touring as trombonist with C. W Stoneking & His Primitive Horn Orchestra.

Aled Thomas · Company Stage Manager

After graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Aled started out touring with regional and national Welsh-language theatre companies. He has worked with Music Theatre Wales on two award winning productions: Greek and In the Locked Room/Ghost Patrol, a co-production with Scottish Opera. Moving out of Wales, Aled undertook a season with English Touring Opera before joining Frantic Assembly for its production of Lovesong, and then the wonderful theatre makers Kneehigh for Steptoe and Son, the UK tour of Tristan & Yseult, and beyond.

Cynthia Cahill* · Stage Manager

Cynthia has been working as a professional theatre artist in the Bay Area, New York City, and around the country for more than 18 years. Recently for Berkeley Rep she was the production stage manager for Dear Elizabeth, Let Me Down Easy, The Wild Bride, and The Arabian Nights, among many others. Cynthia has worked on Broadway with Passing Strange, off Broadway at Second Stage, The Public Theater, and the Culture Project. Regionally, in addition to Berkeley Rep, she has worked at Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, Yale Repertory Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, McCarter Theatre Center, American Conservatory Theater, Hartford Stage, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. Recently Cynthia directed productions of If You Could See: The Alice Austen Story for Sundog Theatre, Fete for the Midtown International Theatre Festival, and Brides of the Moon for Common Ground Theatre Company.

Paul Crewes · Producer

Before working with Kneehigh, Paul worked as producer at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, where he set up over 40 productions including collaborations with Kneehigh, Improbable Theatre, Teatre Romea, and the National Theatre, and with commercial and West End producers. He was also the associate producer for the Lowry, and worked for Metal with Jude Kelly. Paul has worked for Kneehigh since 2005 and has produced Tristan & Yseult (UK, Sydney, New Zealand, UK, and U.S. tours), Cymbeline (UK, Columbia, and Brazil tours), Rapunzel (UK and U.S. tours), Don John (UK and U.S. tours), Hansel & Gretel, Brief Encounter (UK, Australia, and U.S. tours and Broadway), The Red Shoes (UK, U.S., and Australia tours), Midnight’s Pumpkin (Kneehigh Asylum 2011 and Battersea Arts Centre 2012), The Wild Bride (Kneehigh Asylum 2011, UK, and U.S. tours), Steptoe & Son (UK tour 2012) and the launch of the Kneehigh Asylum featuring The Red Shoes, Blast!, and The King of Prussia.


Kneehigh are a UK-based theatre company with a local, national, and international profile. For over 30 years Kneehigh have created vigorous, popular, and challenging theatre and perform with the joyful anarchy that audiences have come to expect from this ground-breaking company. Kneehigh tell stories. Based in Cornwall in breath-taking barns on the south coast, the company create theatre of humanity on an epic and tiny scale. They work with an ever-changing ensemble of performers, artists, technicians, administrators, makers, and musicians and are passionate about their multi-disciplined creative process. In 2010 Kneehigh launched the Asylum, a beautiful and flexible nomadic structure, which means the company now has a venue to call home as well as being one of the leading touring theatre companies in the UK. The company have now presented three seasons in the Asylum in Cornwall, and will continue to reinvent the space and explore new locations in future years. Alongside their national and international touring and Asylum seasons, Kneehigh run their Rambles Program aiming to engage creatively with communities in Cornwall and beyond through event and adventure.

Additional credits

Ed Parry · Costume Supervisor
Ruth Shepherd · Costume Assistant
Sarah Wright · Prop Maker


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Carly Bawden · Whitehands

Carly BawdenCarly played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield; Susan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Kensington Gardens; Catherine in Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory; Genevieve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for Kneehigh at the Curve Theatre and the Gielgud Theatre; and Belle in Sleeping Beauty at Theatre Royal Wakefield. She also played Swallow in Whistle Down the Wind and The Mistress in Evita (both Bill Kenwright tours), for which she was nominated for a Theatrical Management Association Award. Carly’s radio credits include Mary in The Colour of Milk, Lily in Glass Eels, Mary in The House in the Trees (BBC Radio 4), and Iris in Black Dirt (BBC Radio 3). She participated in various workshops, including The Beggar’s Opera (Kneehigh), Stephen Ward (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Pride and Prejudice (Sonia Freidman), From Here to Eternity (Lee Menzies Ltd), and The Light Princess (Royal National Theatre). Carly graduated from the Guildford School of Acting in 2009.

Gareth Charlton · Lovespotter/ Brute / Animator

Gareth CharltonGareth has appeared in Chariots of Fire at the Hampstead Theatre and the Gielgud Theatre, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the Kneehigh at the Gielgud, Don Giovanni and The Tales of Hoffman at the English National Opera, Crazy for You at Kilworth House Theatre, the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Stephen Fry’s Cinderella at the Old Vic, Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands at Sadler’s Wells and on the international tour, The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth at Chapterhouse Theatre Company, and the U.S. tour of Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! He will appear in the upcoming film The Muppets…Again! directed by James Bobin. Gareth trained at the London Studio Centre.

Andrew Durand · Tristan

Andrew DurandAndrew is very excited to be back for his third Kneehigh adventure after appearing as The Devil in The Wild Bride at St. Ann’s Warehouse and Berkeley Rep. He also played the role of Guy in Kneehigh’s version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on the West End. On Broadway he played Albert Narracott in War Horse and Georg in Spring Awakening. His off-Broadway and regional credits include Yank! at York Theatre Company, The Burnt Part Boys at Playwrights Horizons, and The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown at Goodspeed Musicals. Andrew will be performing in Love’s Labour’s Lost with The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park.

Craig Johnson · Brangian / Morholt

Craig JohnsonFor the last 13 years Craig has been a member of Kneehigh, performing in major national and international tours such as Tristan & Yseult, Cymbeline, Don John, A Matter of Life and Death, and The Bacchae, as well as small-scale village hall shows, including directing and acting in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Craig also recently appeared in Alaska (Blackfish Theatre), One Darke Night (o-region) and the short Cornish-language films An Jowl Yn Agas Kegin directed by Brett Harvey and Konin ha Pryv directed by Laura Hardman. Craig has also created and directed several theatre performances for the Eden Project, Cornwall. As a solo artist Craig performs under the name Squashbox Theatre, creating marvellous, quirky, and inventive shows incorporating puppetry, storytelling, natural history, live music, and comedy.

Giles King · Frocin

Giles KingGiles has worked with Kneehigh since 1987, and has been involved in over 30 national and international indoor and outdoor productions. His Kneehigh credits include Lady Lydia in The Red Shoes, Hansel & Gretel, and Frocin in Tristan & Yseult. This spring he produced and performed in Blackfish Theatre’s Alaska with Craig Johnson, Carl Grose, and Simon Harvey, which will be re-touring in 2014. Giles is a fulltime member of the Kneehigh Ramblers Association: watch out for their return this year! Most recently Giles has appeared as Stremov in Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright (Working Title Films); My Cousin Rachael; and The King of Prussia, directed by Claire Grove (BBC Radio 4). He played Frocin “not Frockin!” in the original Tristan & Yseult 10 years ago and is very excited and pleased to be revisiting this signature show.

Patrycja Kujawska · Yseult

Patrycja KujawskaPatrycja has worked with Kneehigh since 2008 and appeared in Don John (a co-production with Royal Shakespeare Company), Midnight’s Pumpkin, the critically acclaimed Red Shoes, and The Wild Bride, which toured to the U.S. (New York and Berkeley), Australia, and New Zealand. Patrycja studied violin at Academy of Music in Poland. Before moving to the UK she worked extensively in physical theatre with Dada von Bzdulow and City Theatre in Gdynia, and has sung in the Non-Cabaret at the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre. She danced in shows choreographed by Tatiana Baganova and Avi Kaiser. Patrycja wrote music for a short animation film; the dance piece Face; and Soundtrack for the Sculptures, inspired by work of sculptor Sabrina Gruss; and she co-composed music for Vincent Dance Theatre’s Test Run. For Vincent Dance Theatre Patrycja has made and toured Drop Dead Gorgeous (2001), Let the Mountains Lead You to Love (2003), Punch Drunk (2004), Broken Chords (2005), Fairy Tale (2006), Test Run (2006 and 2008), If We Go On (2009), and Motherland (2012).

Róbert Luĉkay · Lovespotter/ Brute / Animator

Róbert LuĉkayRóbert has appeared in several Kneehigh productions, including as Iachimo in Cymbeline (with the Royal Shakespeare Company), as Dionysus in The Bacchae, as well as in The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death (with the National Theatre). He has also performed in The Overcoat at Gecko Theatre and played Judas and Aloysius in The Master and Margarita with Complicité, Much in The Heart of Robin Hood with the RSC, and the title role in Pericles and Adam in Man Falling Down, both at Shakespeare’s Globe. For the Barka Theatre in Hungary, Róbert appeared in Operetta as Baron Firulet, in Three Sisters as Vershinin, and in Prophet Ilja and Six Characters in Search of an Author. He also performed in Tale About the Dead Princess, The Devil, and Sweet Anna for the Jokai Theatre in Slovakia. He has been seen in the TV shows Strike Back (Sky); and Foreign John (Channel 4), and his radio work includes Solo Behind the Iron Curtain (BBC Radio 4). Róbert trained at the University of Arts in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Mike Shepherd · King Mark

Mike ShepherdMike Shepherd started Kneehigh in 1980 and has worked almost exclusively for the company ever since. Mike is an actor, director, and teacher and has an ongoing preoccupation with the conditions of creativity. He is currently joint artistic director with Emma Rice. As well as touring the world as a Kneehigh actor, Mike runs the Rambles Program with Anna Maria Murphy, and is a pioneer of Kneehigh’s transformable and transportable venue, the Asylum. His recent shows as an actor include The Wooden Frock, The Bacchae, The Red Shoes, Tristan & Yseult, Cymbeline, A Matter of Life and Death, Don John, Midnight’s Pumpkin, Steptoe and Son, and the motion picture Anna Karenina. He directed Hansel & Gretel, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (with Little Angel Theatre), and Kneehigh Rambles (co-directed with Emma Rice). Mike is currently developing a new version of The Beggar’s Opera for 2014.

Russ Gold · Musician

Russ GoldRuss’ performing experience includes work with musicians as diverse as Gary Lyons (producer of Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead), Johnny Colla of Huey Lewis and the News, Seth Justman of the J. Giles Band, and jazz greats Tom Scott, Sam Rivers, George Coleman, Dave Douglas, Vinx, and Howard Johnson. He has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia, performing with jazz, rock, fusion, and theatre groups including in the acclaimed musicals Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Rent. He has earned endorsements from Sabian cymbals, ProMark sticks, Fishman transducers, and Kurzweil synthesizers.

(Photo by Jay Blakesberg)

Pat Moran · Musician

Pat MoranPat is a multi-instrumentalist and composer fluent in a wide range of styles. He has composed original music and lyrics for over a dozen professional theatre productions and has been resident composer/lyricist/music director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe since 2007. In addition to extensive live performance experience, Pat is a regular composer for film and TV. He is an active and passionate educator and believes strongly in arts education as a means to address issues of social injustice. Pat has been an artist in residence at the University of San Francisco, the Miami University in Ohio, and CSU Fresno. He received an MFA performer composer degree from the California Institute for the Arts and a BFA in philosophy with a concentration in ethics and public policy from Clark University.

Ian Ross · Musical Director / Musician

Ian RossIan is a Bristol-based multi-instrumentalist with around 13 years of experience as a musician and composer. He has composed theatrical shows including Hansel & Gretel for Kneehigh; A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings for Kneehigh and the Little Angel; Frankenspine, Mayday Mayday, and Orpheus and the Furies for Theatre Damfino; When the Shops Shut for Cscape Dance Company; and Universerama for Squashbox. As a musician he has performed in Peter Pan at the Bristol Old Vic, as well as Kneehigh’s productions of Brief Encounter, Don John, Hansel & Gretel, The Red Shoes, The King of Prussia, Midnight’s Pumpkin, and The Wild Bride. Ian composed o-region’s film, Weekend Retreat.

Lizzy Westcott · Musician

Lizzy WestcottLizzy is a Bristol-based musician and composer. Her work includes scores and musical direction for Traces, a dance film by Twisted Theatre; Good Clown Bad Clown, Hey Diddle Diddle, and Savage Children with the Bristol Old Vic; Circus Britannica, The Little Prince, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Bike Shed Theatre; and most recently, a series of original songs for In Cider Story with the Theatre Orchard and Adam Peck. Lizzy has performed as violinist for Improbable Theatre’s improvised show Animo and with several groups, including Nuala & the Alchemy Quartet, Pepino, and Show of Hands. She is currently co-writing Death and Treason, Rhyme and Reason, a songcycle for adults based on the dark and dirty origins of nursery rhymes. This is Lizzy’s first show with Kneehigh.

* Indicates a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Leaping man“An age-old tragic love triangle is made fresh and enchantingly vital in the Tristan & Yseult that opened Tuesday at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. It’s also filled with all the remarkably inventive, eye-catching theatricality we’ve come to expect from England’s Kneehigh company, not to mention freewheeling comedy…Another great gift from the imaginative adapter-director Emma Rice and Kneehigh…Much of the tale is a raucous, bawdy adventure in the Cornish Wild West…Passion erupts gloriously…There are puppets. There are bits of sing-along and other audience participation. Often, Tristan is as immersive as a very enjoyable party. But it’s also a tale very smartly told…A gem!”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Wildly exciting…This is one of those rare shows that not only satisfies any possible theatrical demands, but has you grinning like an idiot and occasionally on the verge of tears, all in two hours…There are no particular rules in this world that marries comedy, theater, acrobatics, live music and—in the case of Tristan—an ancient story of star-crossed lovers…We’ve seen this sort of story a million times. But here, it is only the beginning of the show. It is embellished, decorated, gilded, wallpapered, flashed back, filled with a joyous array of music, sung, danced and basically dolled up as your ticket to a first-class flight of fancy!”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group

“Kneehigh isn’t interested in you merely enjoying the show—although it succeeds swimmingly there as well—but in thoroughly enveloping you in its weird and wonderful world. To that effect, Tristan & Yseult is the vehicle for that transformation, and it is entertainment at its best and brightest…Tristan & Yseult creates a collision of spectacle storytelling, circus, music, dance, and comedy to delight and challenge our conception of what ‘theater’ can be. The result is as jubilant and fun as it is moving and heartfelt…Do yourself a favor and go see it.”—East Bay Express

“There are only so many love stories—love gained, love lost, love unrequited—and so many variations. How, then, do you make the story fresh? How do you reignite the passions and make your audience feel it all anew? The shortest answer to that query is: let Kneehigh tell the story…A landmark show…In addition to the acrobatics and some fun dancing, Kneehigh’s bag of tricks includes some spectacular music, most of it live…There’s much to love in Tristan & Yseult, and the performances are full of surprises and depth.”—Theater Dogs

“It’s funny, moving, sexy, and a total delight. I left the theatre feeling absolutely elated…The sparks fly as they down alcohol and a love potion, then consummate their forbidden love in a passionate acrobatic dance. Very physical, erotic, and utterly moving. Director Emma Rice has incorporated every dramatic technique known and then added some extra magic dust that just makes this a pure theatre event…It all works perfectly.”—BBC

“Wonderful…Halfway through Kneehigh’s show, the band were playing, balloons were flying, hearts and minds were connecting and I suddenly realised how rare it is to have this much fun in the theatre. This evening is like a great gulp of refreshing sea air. It made me want to gurgle with delight…Their tale of shipwrecked hearts is told with a giddy feet-off-the-ground abandon…The production is thrillingly playful in every respect. It is childlike but never childish, full of music from a terrific band and it echoes with hoots of laughter and the whispered memory of despair. It embraces you so warmly that you feel as if you have been physically hugged. I loved it with a passion.”—London Guardian

“Haunting, funny, and sad…strange, mind-bending and heart-twisting…terrific, for those who long for theatre which takes the mind and heart into an altered state…The result is one of the best evenings in theatre you could hope to find.”—London Independent

“Quirkily inventive…genuinely romantic…I found myself successively gripped, touched and moved by the tale.”—Times of London

“A richly inventive triumph from start to finish…With a boldness that must owe something to their being able to claim the Cornish myth as their own, Kneehigh distil its essence through playfulness, artifice and even a dash of corniness. Their show is as cheeky as a kid and wild as the wind.”—London Telegraph

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director


MAN (A BIT RESIGNED): So what are we seeing tonight?
WOMAN: It’s called Tristan & Yseult.
MAN: Weren’t they at Ashkenaz last week?
WOMAN: It’s a love story.
MAN: Sounds like a Nordic law firm.
WOMAN: You’ll like it. It’s by the same people who did that play you liked a couple of years ago.
MAN: If it’s a play then we didn’t see it at Berkeley Rep.
WOMAN: We’ve seen plenty of plays/at the
MAN: I mean a play! A real play! Remember those? By real writers like Shakespeare and Chekhov.
WOMAN: What?! When we saw Romeo and Juliet last year you said if you had to sit through the play one more time you’d throw yourself off a balcony!
MAN: I was being/funny.
WOMAN: And you hate Chekhov! Every Chekhov play we see you’re asleep within 20 minutes.
MAN: I’m not sleeping…I’m thinking deep thoughts.
WOMAN: Maybe it was the snoring that fooled me.
MAN: Okay you made your point! But it’s like a toothache. It hurts when the tooth is there but when it’s gone, there’s something missing.
WOMAN: Did you take your pills this morning?
MAN: So what are we seeing?
WOMAN: It’s a love story. Set in the time of King Arthur. By the same people who did The Wild Bride.
WOMAN: You loved The Wild Bride. You talked for weeks about the woman with the antlers on her head.
WOMAN: And there was even an exposition, a rising action, a climax, and a denouement.
MAN: You think they’ll have that in the show tonight?
WOMAN: Well…there’s no guarantee. Sorry.
MAN: Do I have time for a drink?
WOMAN: We can order one at the new bar at the Theatre.
MAN: Really?
WOMAN: You ready?
MAN: Let’s go.

Prologue: from the Managing Director

One of the most satisfying moments in the season so far occurred for me at the closing performance of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a play about the messiness of familial love. A friend of mine, who has been estranged from her children for many years, walked out of the Theatre and said to me, “This play makes me want to try harder.”

I yearn for those moments when I know we’ve touched a nerve. They are as good, maybe better, than applause.

In the past few weeks, you probably received a packet in the mail asking you to consider making a gift to Berkeley Rep’s Annual Fund. You may be surprised to know that Berkeley Rep is a nonprofit organization. Some of you will think, “Why make a contribution? I already help Berkeley Rep by buying tickets.” I don’t want to minimize just how much we do appreciate your decision to attend Berkeley Rep when you have so many choices of cultural offerings in the Bay Area. However, every time you purchase a ticket, whether it cost you $10 as part of a school group, or $14.50 (our lowest single-ticket price), or $135 (our absolute highest ticket price), your ticket has been subsidized by someone else. Were it not for someone’s contribution, every ticket would cost more than $150. High as that may seem, it is still a bargain when one remembers that a ticket to a Broadway show now regularly sells for over $400.

When you contribute to Berkeley Rep you are supporting more than the productions you see on our stage. You are also supporting many of our other programs that do not, in themselves, produce income. Among them is The Ground Floor: Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work; our School of Theatre that serves 20,000 people annually and provides free- or low-cost programs for students in nine counties; our public education programs; the reduced rental program that enables community groups to use our facilities; our Teen Council; our services for the blind; our programs in juvenile hall; and more.

While Berkeley Rep takes seriously the responsibility to be good citizens, we have a larger mission. I hope you share with me the belief that while Berkeley Rep provides a tangible service to the community, we provide other kinds of benefits as well. We take great pride in producing work on our stage that challenges our audiences to see each other with open minds and open hearts. We are deeply committed to the notion that telling stories, thoughtfully and with intelligence, helps us remember our shared humanity and our shared values. We retain a deep-seated belief that by mirroring human behavior in all its vast complexity, theatre, like all art, helps us be the best kinds of humans we can be. Sometimes we motivate people to “try harder.”

As you contemplate which of the myriad organizations you will support as the season of giving draws to a close, I hope you will consider adding Berkeley Rep to your list. Every dollar you give helps us produce work that provides both tangible and intangible returns for our community.

Wishing you and yours a joy filled holiday season.


Susan Medak

Tristan & Yseult: A love for the ages

By Julie McCormick

You may have heard this story before: boy meets girl, they fall in love even though they shouldn’t, they marry other people, and everyone gets their heart broken. Every culture has its own legends of forbidden love and betrayal, and one of the most enduring is that of Tristan and Yseult. Though their names and the exact details of their story have varied over the centuries, these lovers continue to inspire and enthrall. Versions from the 12th and 13th centuries gloried in Tristan’s utter devotion to Yseult; his knightly prowess and steadfast ardor made him the unimpeachable ideal of courtly love. In the Victorian period, by contrast, Yseult was painted as a raven-haired temptress who seduced Tristan away from his long-suffering wife. Some adaptations feature a larger cast of characters or include various side adventures. And yet, no matter what language the story is told in or where it is set, its tale of love and loneliness speaks directly to our hearts.

The exact origins of this immortal romance are unclear. Apart from the very well-documented lives of a few nobles, precise details from the distant past remain murky, and are often indistinguishable from myth. Some sources say that it is a French story and that Tristan was originally from Brittany in Northern France; others assert that the tale has Celtic roots. There is evidence that there really was a Mark (also Marc, or Marke) of Cornwall, and he makes frequent reappearances in other legends as well. A standing stone near Fowey in Cornwall is called “The Tristan Stone:” some believe it to be where the knight is buried. When developers sought to move the stone in order to build houses in 2012, there was an enormous public outcry. This, as well as the fact that the story largely takes place in Cornwall, makes it most likely that the tale began here. However, Welsh myth refers to a warrior named Tristan, and there are Irish versions of the tale as well (which makes sense, given that Yseult was an Irish princess). Still others suggest that the Tristan myth began in Scotland, with the ancient Picts. Wherever the legend began and whether or not it tells the story of specific historical figures, it nevertheless rings with emotional truth.

The story first found its way onto paper (or vellum) in the late 12th century, in the royal halls of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was a great patron of the arts. Her court in Northern France was home to many troubadours and bards who entertained the nobles with tales of valor and courtly love. It’s unclear who penned the first composition, but we know that Thomas of Britain, Eilhart von Oberg, Béroul, and Marie de France wrote their own verses, and suspect that other versions which have since been lost also made their rounds.

From Cornwall and Brittany the tale quickly spread throughout Europe, carried on the tongues of courtiers and jangling on the lutes of jongleurs, minstrels that wandered the roads in search of a patron, or at least, a meal. The story made its way from France to Germany, Norway, Iceland, Italy, and Czechoslovakia, integrating itself with local culture. These newly rooted tales inspired their own legacies.

The saga of Tristan, Yseult, and Mark is often associated with Arthurian myths—in fact, some believe that the doomed threesome served as the blueprint for later stories about Guinevere, Lancelot, and Arthur. In other tales, the two sets of lovers were contemporaries, with Tristan serving as a knight in King Arthur’s Round Table. This may have something to do with Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur, which he likely wrote from various prisons in the 15th century. Le Mort d’Arthur influenced retellings of the Tristan and Arthurian legends up into contemporary times, including Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene (published at the very end of the 1500s) and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. When interest in the Middle Ages saw a resurgence in the 1850s, Malory’s text was a jumping-off point for many of these reinterpretations by poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson, Swinburne, Thomas Hardy, and artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John William Waterhouse.

Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, is another of these seminal Tristan texts that has inspired generations of adaptors, including the makers of the 2006 film starring James Franco and Sophie Myles. Based on German writer Gottfried von Strassburg’s epic poem from 1220, Wagner’s piece focuses closely on the lovers’ relationship and the transcendent power of love, paring down an epic tale to a few simple moments of enormous psychological significance. Not that anyone could ever call the structure of a Wagner opera “simple,” however. In fact, Wagner himself did not refer to his works as operas at all, instead preferring to call them Musikdramen, or literally, “music dramas.” In these Musikdramen, the music, libretto, and stage directions (all written by Wagner) combined to tell a deliberate and unified story. In pieces like Tristan und Isolde, Wagner composed musical motifs for the characters, settings, and themes that would appear whenever they are onstage, and bend to reflect the mood, whether it is joyful, passionate, enraged, or devastated. Using dissonant harmonies and unresolved melodic progressions to underscore the lovers’ yearning, Tristan und Isolde is incredibly challenging to both play and sing. While now recognized as one of the most important pieces of Western classical music and a foundation for modern composition, Wagner’s opera was deemed “impossible” to play and laughed out of many of the major opera houses in Europe. It eventually did catch on in Germany, and had a successful 1886 run at the Met in New York.

Wagner’s life, like his work, was filled with passion and grandeur. A fervent nationalist, lavish spender, and ardent lover, Wagner never did anything by halves. Spurred on by debt collectors, warrants for his arrest, and failed love affairs, he wrote Tristan und Isolde in stops and starts across many years and countries. While staying at a cottage on the Wesendonck estate in Zurich (Wagner was evading arrest for his political activities in Germany), he befriended the Baron von Wesendonck’s wife, Mathilde, who was a poet and artist herself. Wagner set some of her poems to music; these were prototypes for themes in Tristan und Isolde. Perhaps their relationship is an instance of life informing art—Wagner’s wife Minna certainly thought so when she intercepted a letter between the two and accused them of having an affair. The resulting blow up blew Wagner to Venice and then Lucerne in Switzerland, where he finished the piece.

Maybe the reason that this story endures is that we find ourselves and our own stories within it. The thrill of falling in love and the ache of loneliness are all too familiar, and transcend the boundaries of history, culture, and language. Director Emma Rice has remarked that this is not a grand epic tale of romantic love that belongs only to the Tristan and Yseults of the world. It also belongs to the Brangians, Marks, and Frocins, to the lovespotters, to the stranger sitting in the next seat, and to you.

Forgotten Britons

By Sam Basger

There exists within the United Kingdom of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the remnants of what was once a proud fifth nation, jutting claw-like from the mainland of old Albion into the convergence of the English Channel and the Celtic Sea. Cornwall, a Celtic civilization with a unique history and its own native language, is only separated from the rest of the island by the River Tamar cutting across the southwest peninsula, and yet its distant removal from the “mainland” dates back to the end of the Roman occupation of Britain in the early fifth century. In the words of former long-term resident, author Daphne du Maurier: “Cornwall, little known, of small significance, remains the tail of England, still aloof and rather splendidly detached.” Largely left to their own devices by the gradually developing monarchy of the greater country, Cornish culture and traditions flourished far beyond the Cornish pasties, meat and vegetable filled hand pies, that are ubiquitous across Britain.

A blurring of history and mythology is alive in Cornwall, where it is believed that kings like Arthur walked, where heroes like Tristan loved, and where magical creatures like giants, piskies, and spriggans roamed the land. These are stories that have been told and retold in a hundred different versions in just as many tongues. This creative breeding ground is both the physical and spiritual home of Kneehigh, whose work is by no small measure influenced by its place of origin. As centuries passed, the land beyond the Tamar became another piece in England’s jigsaw, swallowed into a network of shires and counties and leaving us wondering what exactly was this “aloof” Cornwall, and what is it today?

To chart Cornish history one must look back at the origins of the First Britons, inhabitants sometimes referred to as Celts. The secluded southwestern corner of the island became the ideal place for the Celts to fend off Saxon conquerors, the environment acting as a natural bastion which held Germanic influence at bay for hundreds of years. By defending against incursion, locals were effectively protecting their culture and way of life, fossilizing practices and burying their roots deep into the ground below. Cornwall, or Kernow in the Brythonic Cornish language that is closely associated with Welsh, established its own polity to govern itself and its citizens. In this free Cornwall, an agrarian, seafaring, and self-sufficient community thrived, harvesting prized resources like tin and trading its wealth for other valued commodities. The Cornish were also spiritually connected to their land, seeing signs in all the rocks, hills, and valleys that the earth goddess laid out before them and heeding her advice. These pagan beliefs underscored the daily activity of the people, who fiercely honored their traditions with a fiery independence and a stubborn pride. The Saxons would not be denied forever though, and in the first half of the ninth century Cornwall was conquered, officially becoming an extension of England. That is not to say that the Cornish were immediately assimilated, though this did eventually occur. While their autonomy may have been compromised, they were still recognized as a native community and eventually a Duke of Cornwall was designated as mediator to the Crown. As Christianity began to creep into Cornish custom, folklore was appropriated from its Celtic roots: standing or leaning stones, for instance, were no longer the leftovers of giant’s play, but rather interpreted to be persons frozen by the wrath of god for dancing on a Sunday. Well into the mid-16th century, the Cornish still possessed their own styles of dress, their own naming-customs, their own agricultural practices, and their own games and pastimes. Despite the fact that, by the year 1700, native speakers had dwindled to a few thousand in favor of the more comprehensive English language, the myths and legends survived the translation and thus the culture lived on.

Like many indigenous cultures, a true sense of Cornishness is imbedded in the stories passed on from generation to generation. The peddler of these tales was the drollteller, who said or sang his “drolls” in exchange for room and board. These were stories of magic, of the encounters between mankind and the supernatural, and the creatures that inhabited Cornwall have had many incarnations. It was in Cornwall that a certain boy unwittingly raised a mammoth beanstalk into the clouds, that a small demonic being bartered for a human soul with three guesses at his name, that mischievous piskies—or pixies as they became widely known—would perform good deeds in secret, shrouded by the dark of night. The spriggans, vicious little sprites, were the ancestors of goblins and even, arguably of a more famous creation, who lurked in caves pining fatuously over his “Precious.” Or perhaps he has more in common with the knockers, the pale, photosensitive elves found deep in the tin mines, but then maybe their predilection for harvesting minerals more closely resembles the dwarves. What is evident, however, is the evolution of Cornish folklore into the mainstream, penetrating the contemporary zeitgeist as fables, fairy tales, or even simply as assumptive history, as is the case with King Arthur and Tristan.

In her book, Vanishing Cornwall, du Maurier discusses how the story of King Arthur, Cornwall’s most eminent son, is curiously interwoven with that of another Cornish king, Mark. The fortress at Castle Dore, Mark’s residence, was the former stronghold of the chief Gorlois. In the Arthurian myth, Gorlois is murdered, and his wife Igraine is seduced by Uther Pendragon, subsequently becoming the mother of Arthur. Ironically, when Arthur becomes leader, his wife Guinevere is herself seduced by Lancelot, a knight of the Round Table at Arthur’s court. And of course this recurring theme of seduction and betrayal extends to King Mark, who sends his nephew Tristan to bring him an Irish bride and, well, Kneehigh’s performance will explain the rest.

The passion that pulsates through Cornwall has literally become the stuff of legend and fertile ground for Kneehigh’s creative endeavors. Tristan & Yseult was developed as an outdoor experience, subject to the elements and with a direct connection to the land that holds the story’s memories. Kneehigh is informed by the rich history and unique identity of the past nation of Cornwall, with the company’s members describing themselves as “outsiders,” a nod to the isolation that once protected Cornish culture from extinction. Cornwall, today a shire with a population of over a half million people and a fashionable vacation spot for big-city dwellers, still bears a few birthmarks and a small but staunch nationalistic party determined to reinstate Cornish language, customs, and even political autonomy. Companies like Kneehigh function as ambassadors for Cornwall. As modern droll-tellers, they remind us of the importance of unearthing the past to fully inhabit the present—of paying respect to the pastoral pocket of Britain that ushered these fantastic myths into the world. From the tail end of England, we await with baited breath the many more stories that Cornwall has to tell.

Not so boring theatre

Insights from Kneehigh’s joint artistic directors

Emma Rice and Mike Shepherd talk about what first attracted the company to the story of Tristan and Yseult, and the process of remounting the show 10 years after its first production.

Emma Rice
Adaptor & director and joint artistic director of Kneehigh

Could you tell me a little about how it’s been coming back to directing Tristan & Yseult?

Returning to Tristan & Yseult is, in turn, a joy and an agony. I love this piece and marvel at the fusion of comedy, tragedy, chaos, and sensuality. It is a pleasure and a delight to return to old friends and also to enjoy some new ones. However, this is a personal piece and it is laced with my own experience and my own heartbreak. Returning 10 years on, doesn’t numb the pain, no! Ten years only compounds it, with more experience, more love, more laughter, and more understanding to weave throughout.

Are you discovering new things in the show? How has it changed from last time?

Certainly. We are all 10 years older and that experience informs the piece. There is a freedom in returning and a freshness. We have also been working with some new actors who bring a new outlook and a new chemistry. But, is it still the Tristan & Yseult we know and love? Yes.

Could you tell me a little bit about the history of the show?

We first made Tristan & Yseult as a site-specific piece. It was to perform in two outdoor venues only: Rufford in Nottinghamshire and Restormel Castle in Cornwall—a wonderful, circular, ruined castle, perched on a hilltop and open to the elements. It became immediately apparent that this show touched audiences in a very special way, that this ancient story resonated deeply and strongly in the modern psyche. It was spotted by the National Theatre who invested in the production to take it indoors, to make it more physical and more musical. This artistic investment really took the show, and the company, on to a new level, enabling us to develop the musicality of our work and create and tour on a larger scale. It went on to tour nationally and internationally, and wherever in the world we go, this story touches the hearts of all.

How has your relationship with the piece changed, six years since its last tour?

No. It is simply one of the most beloved shows ever.

What do you think/hope people will feel on seeing the show?

People will laugh and cry. They will recognize themselves and those they love. It will take them on a journey that will remind them they are part of a community and are living, loving, flawed, and fantastic human beings.

What made you decide that Brangian should be played by a male actor? Was it a conscious decision, even?

Oh yes, it was very conscious. I have long been angered by the obsession with beauty and feel, not only that this is not true to life, but also stops the collective imagination. When we see a pretty, thin, young girl play a virginal maid, nothing is challenged, nothing is opened, nothing is revealed. When I give this part to a large middle-aged man, the opposite happens. We laugh at him/her, and then we imagine, and then we feel. This brute becomes so frail and so vulnerable that it breaks our hearts. This is something you can only do on stage. On film, it would be weird; but here, in the world of the imagination, the audience can be transported, surprised, and deeply moved.

What’s next for Kneehigh?

Tristan & Yseult tours to the U.S. and Brief Encounter to Australia and the U.S. We are working on a new version of The Beggar’s Opera written by Carl Grose and developing a project with Michael Morpurgo. Exciting times.

What’s next for the arts?!

We will all have to get creative in order to survive. These are tough times and nothing is certain anymore. We will have to work hard, be bold and brave and try to surprise ourselves and our audiences. We mustn’t retreat to a comfort zone, but fight for our place in society. At Kneehigh, we believe in the three ‘R’s; reinvention, regeneration, and revolution.

Mike Shepherd
Joint artistic director and founder of Kneehigh

What attracted you to the story as a company?

The story fundamentally asked the question “can you truly love two people?” and we were fascinated by how such an ancient story should seem non-judgemental. The love triangle plot could almost be a contemporary viewpoint from a TV soap opera! We were also very interested in why Whitehands lies with such tragic consequences near the end of the story.

Could you tell us about the portrayal of Cornwall in Tristan & Yseult?

Cornwall was a kingdom in itself, and it was the richest kingdom in the world for 300 years at the time this story was set. Tin was more valuable than gold, and Cornwall was at the center of the world trade route. Like the tin from Cornwall, the story of Tristan and Yseult spread all over the world to many different cultures and gave rise to many different versions. There are rumors that Shakespeare was influenced by the story when he wrote Romeo & Juliet, and you can see why.

We wanted to show Cornwall’s side of history as it doesn’t get taught in schools—English history is taught in schools. Did you know, for instance, that the first university was in Cornwall, that the British Postal Service, the first of its kind in the world, was conceived by a man from St. Blazey? That the first gas-lit house was in Redruth? That no record exists of any formal annexation of Cornwall to England?

I also never knew that the English took brutal and desperate measures to subdue the rebellious nature of the Cornish—burning the university, Glasney College, destroying the Cornish Parliament, censoring language and religion and even, like Herod, murdering baby boys…extraordinary that I never knew but I was taught English history not Cornish.

Now picture this country etched on a map.
Then regard what you see as nothing but crap.
Forget what you’ve been taught or think you know:
The centre of everything’s here—Kernow.
—Carl Grose/Anna Maria Murphy

How has theatre in the UK changed in the past 10 years?

The “bonanza” time of subsidy and lottery funding has now passed, and this obviously has had an effect on UK theatre. There is still funding for bricks and mortar, but less support for art and artists. Many companies have, sadly, gone to the wall, and the phrase “risk averse” has become prevalent. For theatre makers like ourselves, this is, at times, hard to manage.

It feels, however, more important than ever to keep pushing the boundaries in our quest to entertain, provoke, and transport our audiences, and I am encouraged by the appetite people still have for something different. Amongst the predictable and safe, theatre will always reinvent—it needs to!

What were your inspirations?

At the time of making the show in the early 2000s, Emma and I were really into Tarantino and films like Pulp Fiction: bloody good story telling and great music. This Tristan & Yseult is a Tarantino version of a medieval story.

Does the fact that Tristan & Yseult was first performed outdoors at Restormel Castle change how it was made?

This show was made to be outdoors. The structure is invented for the outside: the storytelling, dance, action, and music are outward facing. The direct, honest acting exemplified by Craig Johnson (as Brangian) in this show is to do with being in daylight and being able to see the audience. As the darkness falls the story darkens with it and becomes more introspective—the fourth wall comes in a bit. The audience become more like outside observers toward the end of the piece.

Can you tell us a little about the theme of love in Tristan & Yseult?

Tristan & Yseult is an exploration of the nature of love: the thin line between love and hate, and the dangerous state of falling in love. The dizziness and intoxication of first love, and the next stage…does the relationship deepen or strengthen, or does it get boring? How do you make the decision to stay with someone without the intoxication of the first throes of love? When the love potion wears off?

Watch now

See us on TV

Check out our new 15-second TV ad for Tristan & Yseult.

Sneak peek: Tristan & Yseult

Kneehigh is back with its signature hit show. Get a glimpse of gloriously magical Tristan & Yseult!

Introducing Tristan & Yseult

Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone introduces Tristan & Yseult.

Listen up

Program articles
Want to listen to select articles from the program? Play these audio files online—or download and listen to them on your way to the show.

This is a brand-new service, so we'd love to hear what you think about it!

Hear songs from the show.

See photos

Tristan & Yseult press photos Tristan & Yseult press photos Tristan & Yseult press photos Tristan & Yseult press photos

Photos by Steve Tanner

Photos may not be used for commercial or personal use without written permission from Berkeley Rep, and unauthorized alteration, reproduction, or sale of these images is strictly prohibited. Journalists and other members of the media, please visit our online press room.

Additional resources

Our literary department has compiled this select list of tidbits to enrich your experience of Tristan & Yseult.

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The innovative Cornish company at the helm of this production has been operating since 1980, when a school teacher began running extracurricular theatre workshops. For each project, Kneehigh builds a team that then retreats to barns in Cornwall’s countryside, where the isolation provides a real and natural focus for their flights of imagination. Founder Mike Shepherd states that “this is not a conceit; it is a radical choice that informs all aspects of our work…we always try to start the creative process at these barns, to be inspired by our environment and where we work.” Today these versatile storytellers are a globally touring phenomenon, rejoining us here in Berkeley to perform their beloved version of Tristan & Yseult.

Gateway to the company

  • Kneehigh’s official website, featuring information about their process, their company members, and their past, present, and future performances.

Kneehigh: Making a show

  • Co-Artistic Director Emma Rice explains Kneehigh’s process of creating a performance.

Kneehigh’s digital innovation

  • A Guardian article explaining Kneehigh’s new digital frontier with the development of a cell phone app, which triggers audio files that narrate stories based on your location within a specified area. With this innovation, Kneehigh successfully fuse a live and digital artistic experience.

Versions of the story

While Kneehigh have their own unique way of telling a story through performance, the tale of Tristan and Yseult (also spelled Iseult or Isolde, among others) is one that has had many forms over the last 800 or so years. Whether sung as an opera, read as a poem, or seen as a film or painting, the story’s universal themes of love, deception, fate, loyalty, and revenge always resonate with their audience.

Tristan und Isolde opera synopsis

  • The Metropolitan Opera offers a detailed synopsis of Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde.

Tristan und Isolde: Prelude

  • Zubin Mehta conducting the Prelude to Wagner’s opera, performed by the National Theatre of Munich.

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult

  • The complete translated text written by historian Joseph Bédier, a French scholar renowned for his revival of medieval tales and French literature. The book was first published in Paris in 1900.

Painting by Salvador Dali

  • An abstract interpretation by the Spanish surrealist, completed in 1944.

“Tristan and Isolde. The Love Sin.”

  • The poem written by Lady Jane Wilde, pseudonym Speranza, mother of Oscar Wilde and an Irish poet with an interest in Celtic mythology.

Tristan + Isolde (2006), directed by Kevin Reynolds

  • This contemporary film, starring James Franco and Sophia Myles, has a few key differences from the version presented by Kneehigh, including the circumstances in which the lovers meet and the situation that ultimately divides them.


The physical and spiritual home of both Kneehigh and the story of Tristan & Yseult is a fascinating slice of ancient Celtic culture. This relatively unknown corner in the southwest of Britain has fostered its own myths, legends, and fairy tales that are known throughout the world.

Timeline of Cornish history

  • A timeline provided by the Cornish Council, the local governing body of the British region of Cornwall.

Tales from Cornwall

  • A sneak peek into an anthology of tales about the supernatural inhabitants of Cornwall, such as giants, piskies, spriggins, and knockers, and their interactions with the locals, for better or worse.

Visit Cornwall

  • The official tourism site for Cornwall, featuring a plethora of videos, including aerial and walking tours of the beautiful countryside.


It may be all you need, but what exactly is it? The emotion that we exercise every day or relentlessly pursue is the basis of most good stories. Certainly it is what united and divided the heroes of our tale.

Five theories on love

  • This Guardian article assembles five experts from different fields, including a physicist, a psychotherapist, a philosopher, a romantic novelist, and a nun, to provide their opinions on the nature of love.

What is love?

  • Written by Mark Vernon for Aeon Magazine, this essay discusses what the author describes as “triangular love”—the third point of the triangle referring to the life outside the relationship between two people.

A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman

  • A thoughtful compendium on the physical, chemical, bestial, recreational, insatiable emotion that we humans call love.

Free Speech pre- and post-show enrichment programs

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Toast New Year’s with the cast

Join the Tristan & Yseult cast after the show on New Year’s Eve. We’ll be enjoying ourselves in our new bar (which features cocktails curated by East Bay Spice Company), and hosting a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

  • Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Meet us in the Theatre an hour before the show on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an engrossing presentation about your subscription-season play. Hear about the playwright’s perspective, dive into the historical context, and discover why the script is relevant right now. Each 30-minute talk includes plenty of time for your questions.

Post-show docent-led discussions follow matinees.

Interested in becoming a docent? Click here for details. For more information about Berkeley Rep’s docent program, please email

Our docents also offer talks off-site:

  • Thursday, December 5 · 7pm—Lafayette Library
  • Monday, December 9 · 7pm—Kensington Library
  • Tuesday, December 10 · 7pm—Orinda Library
  • Wednesday, December 12 · 2pm—Moraga Library

Post-show discussions

Stick around after select performances for lively Q&A sessions with our artists on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.

  • Thursday, December 12, 2013
  • Tuesday, December 17, 2013
  • Friday, December 27, 2013

Last Call

Cap off your night with us after select evening performances throughout the season and sample wine, spirits, and other culinary delights from local vendors—all for FREE! Samplings begin immediately following the performance.

  • Friday, November 29, 2013

Teen Night

Teen Night gives local teens the opportunity to meet for dinner and a behind-the-scenes discussion with a member of the artistic team before attending each subscription-season production at an extremely discounted price.

Past Teen Night guests have included: Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep’s Michael Leibert Artistic Director; Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo, dancers in Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup; and Michael Suenkel, Berkeley Rep’s production stage manager.

Teen Night begins at 6:30pm at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre. Tickets are $10. Learn more. To reserve your space, call Teen Council at 510 647–2973 or email

  • Friday, November 22, 2013