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Kneehigh's

Tristan
& Yseult

March 30

April 13, 2014

in CST's Courtyard Theater

A World's Stage Production
from Cornwall, England
adapted and directed by Emma Rice
writers: Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy

Writing Tristan & Yseult

An interview with Carl Grose

What was the brief when writing the piece?

The brief from Emma was twofold: to look at the original source material and try to find a story structure that was not only exciting, relevant, but also to our tastes. We ended up cutting out probably two-thirds of the original story, which happened to be the more fantastical Medieval elements - such as dragons and lepers and things like that. Emma's vision was to think more modern, more Tarantino - which is where I got the idea of starting the story at the end with Tristan dying (a la Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs). The second challenge was to write the voice of The Court of King Mark. I had the court, and Anna had "love." Anna's a brilliant poet, so I was a bit relieved that I didn't get "love."     

A lot of the piece is poetry rather than prose – what do you think this adds? What was the reason for writing this way?

Yes, there is a lot of poetry in this. And lots of different styles. I think what it adds is a classical feel, a musicality of text, but it also, most importantly, elevates the language out of the domestic. I also tried to let the style of the poetry tell story, too. Emma suggested that King Mark speak in iambic pentameter, which helped enormously. This separates King Mark, makes him grander and more aloof from the other characters, which I like - cus he's King of Cornwall. Other characters speak in a rough poetry, like Frocin for example. His is more in the rhythm of nursery rhymes or limericks. Stunted. Nasty. Childish. So the poetry is "in character" too. 

When commissioned to write, what is your process?

It's different for every commission, and very different when writing a play. But what usually happens on a Kneehigh show is the director will have an idea, and we'll look at the source material and talk about what's to be done with it. So for Tristan, Emma was adamant that it wasn't going to be "Medieval" and that I should work specifically with iambic for King Mark, for example. This is a great starting point because it's specific but broad enough to find your own thing. With this framework, I'd then go away and start writing. I spend 3-4 weeks writing, reading the original story over and over again, getting under the skin of it and attempting to find the "voice" of the writing - which is another word for the tonal quality of the language. This takes quite a while. So I'll just write anything, keeping it very free. Then, after a couple of weeks, I'll look at what I've written. Most of which is rubbish. But then I start sifting through the stuff, to find something that feels right, and if I, I do expand on that. I'll start to pull together very specific moments from the story - like, for example, King Mark welcoming us to the court, or Frocin catching Tristan and Yseult having an affair. Once I'm happy with these, and have built up a bundle of stuff, I hand them over to see what the director thinks. It's often slow to get going but once the back is broken on "the voice" of the piece, things start to gather momentum. I'll then work up other moments, songs, or scenes that the director requests. 

How closely do you work with the director and the rest of the company/creative team?

Very. Ideally, we've a rough script as we enter rehearsals. It then gets explored by the company. There's often improv, which can be taken and crafted, and put into scenes with pre-written text or whatever. So the rehearsal period is a process of shaping, crafting, cutting, re-writing depending on what the director wants. 

What do you read in your spare time?

Whatever I can. Scripts. Novels. Anything. I'm reading Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon at the moment. It's insane.  And, right now, lots of baby manuals, cuz we've just had one and I'm trying to figure out how it works.   

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