Reviews

Standing Ovation Award

'Highly original play (dystopian and absurdist), a subversive retelling of Tennyson's ballad, set in the future in a period of advanced climate change and instead of a woman being objectified, it is a man. Excellent production values with an outstanding set (STEPHEN STEPHENSON), supportive sound and lighting.   Stephen Stephenson's set/props were made completely from recycled/repurposed materials)'

London Pub Theatres
by Heather Jeffery

I confess to having read the romantics (many years ago), but my enduring memory of THE LADY OF SHALOTT (by Alfred Tennyson) is the Pre-Raphaelite painting by John William Waterhouse (you know the one).

 

So, in the interests of returning an erudite review, I read the poem again. The elements of the lady being in a tower in Camelot, and weaving by occupation, do remain, along with many nods to the ballad. I would recommend re-reading it before coming to see the show as there are so many references which add a tongue in cheek quality.  In this subversive retelling, the show is set in a period of advanced climate change and instead of a woman being objectified, it is a man. It is rather more cynical and honest, leaving behind the sentimentalised view of the original.

 

Beauty does remain in so many ways: the set; the hopeless desires of the protagonist and the remembrance of the wonders of nature.  My expectation of this queer retelling of the poem, that it would be camp and self-indulgent, were not well founded. It turns out that, for me at least, the overriding impression is one of the absurdities of man, a nightmare, every bit as cruel as the lady’s fate.   In this show the focus is on man’s inability to cope with or make sufficient changes to their lifestyle whilst being partially responsible for the destruction of their own habitat.

 

In this one-man show, written and performed by Gareth Watkins, we meet his character Martuni in the tower (more reminiscent of a submarine). He’s masturbating (unfulfilled) and taking a piss. This is how his day begins and over a series of repetitions we find that his day is monotonous. Weaving a single strand on the loom, or speaking with an imagined room service, or looking out at the synthetic river in case there is anything to see.    However, he has not lost hope. He has communication with the world outside, and he’s on a dating app, trying to find the perfect match.

 

If this doesn’t sound very promising, then a few things are really striking. It is a show which has a sense of humour, with laugh out loud moments, albeit with a slightly bitter taste to them. It is also very poignant, showing the gap between Martuni’s human desires and the actuality of his situation. 

 

Will his rose-tinted memories ever be fulfilled when in the outside world  society is collapsing, and health is deteriorating?    He appears to be looking for perfection but the people he encounters on the app (by voice over) don’t excite him: Reaper, wants to be a dog at the foot of his bed; Page, constantly warns him about the dangers outside, and Shepherd is blind and according to Martuni, he’s ugly.  All of them want him to come outside and when Martuni finally spots his ‘perfect match’, he makes a move away from his solitude and boredom. 

 

Much praise to Gareth Watkins and the director Pete Gomes, for their excellent pacing, drawing out the internal struggle and keeping it real.   The show also benefits from a wonderfully shabby chic set by Stephen Stephenson, so well used during the show. With so much to admire in the production, it would be unfair to ignore sound and the all-important cues which were spot on. Also, lighting which had its moments in the sun, and assisted to generate interest in a show which was so full of detail. All the creatives seeming to be working as a single body.

There Ought to be Clowns

Gareth Watkins explores poetic strangeness in this queer adaptation of The Gentleman of Shalott at the Hope Theatre

“I imagine you’re a bit of a specimen”

Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott is one of the few poems I can quote a few stanzas from (mainly because I was low-key obsessed with Miss Marple’s The Mirror Crack’d as a young gay) so the idea of a queer dramatic adaptation piqued my interest. Writer/performer Gareth Watkins’ distinctive The Gentleman of Shalott is very much its own beast though, atmospheric and amorphous with a dream-like queerness over and above the contemporary queer lens through which it is told.

Watkins plays Martuni, a man with a periscope living in a tower, on an island, in a river and like the Lady of Shalott, he spends time weaving on a loom. Unlike her though, he’s hugely active on the apps, a slew of horny guys impressed by his jacked physique and hungry to tempt him down. Such is his world, dominated by this extreme physical isolation but equally shaped by the ability to adopt multiple online personae as he interacts virtually with the likes of Reaper, Page and Shepherd.

Ensconced in his self-protective bubble, Martuni clearly relishes the different power he is able to exert over these men, toying as he does with their fantasies and desires, raising questions about how much they might actually be colluding in these erotic manipulations. We all know that gays be horny but Watkins drops us further crumbs to suggest some context: we discover that society has gone to hell due to the pressures exerted by climate change; it is clear too that Martuni is a neurodiverse individual, suffering anxiety and possibly even agoraphobia, positing this escapism as something of a necessity.

The washes of Craig Byrne’s eerie soundscape wrap around the theatre perfectly as Daniel Philipson’s lighting design expertly guides us through the shifting terrain. Watkins does well to balance the gnomic tendencies of the more darkly poetic passages with an all-too-recognisable sense of real humour (the deeper voice adopted for the latest hot guy…) but even as his situation starts to change with the possibility of someone breaking through Martuni’s shell, the dream-like nature of the production remains.

Broadway Baby 
by Carrie Goode

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Set in a secluded tower, this play is a queer adaptation of Alfred Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, a poem detailing the life of said Lady, who is locked away, spending her days weaving tapestries of the outside world, never able to venture out herself. In The Gentleman of Shalott, Martuni (Gareth Watkins), is also locked away in a tower. However, via the dating apps he frequently uses, he encounters a number of men with a desire to lure him out.

Watkins' writing is clever and sharp, and his performance is bold

The staging consists of a bed, a loom, with which he weaves his own tapestries, a periscope that serves as his only visual connection to the outside world and a monitor displaying his dating apps, amongst other things. The small stage of the Hope Theatre may seem cluttered, yet with Pete Gomes’ direction, Watkins moves his tall frame around effortlessly, weaving himself back and forth rhythmically to show the repetition of Martuni’s life. His daily activities shift between weaving, exercising, masturbating, and so on. The only source of disruption is the dating app, where he entertains the fantasies of the men he connects with, although he longs for a meaningful connection - to find real love. 

Martuni is played with a skittish, anxious manner, which counteracts his obscure, lustful conversations superbly; despite his desire for connection, he shows a distaste to anyone who doesn’t reflect specifically what he is looking for. The sound gives an atmospheric, almost mechanical edge to the loneliness of his life, in a room devoid of nature, everything feels manmade and yet he is the only man there. 

Watkins' writing is clever and sharp, and his performance is bold; he is not afraid to sit in the quiet of the stage. Those moments of quiet, being expertly punctured by the occasional sigh or well delivered declaration of monotony, work well with the meatier parts of the text, which are both poetic and silly. The play is funny, particularly Martuni’s almost petulant responses to the men who try to capture his attention - those men being Reaper, Page and Sheperd, who all have their own way of trying to interest an intrigued but isolated Martuni. 

Despite the story being localised within his tower, the play also speaks to wider issues of climate change, as the world appears to be collapsing around him. Martuni, however seems interested only in his own search for companionship. 

It made me think a lot about what this could reflect about our world. we exist in the most interconnected version of life there has ever been and yet you argue that social media and dating apps have made us more individualistic. Do we sincerely care about connection with others, or are we busy weaving our own tapestries, inspired only by how we singularly see the world, too scared to venture out?

Pink Prince Theatre
by Estelle Luck

Having studied English literature at uni I was both curious and excited to see this modern and queer interpretation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott at The Hope Theatre in Islington, and it didn’t disappoint.

 

In lots of ways, the play held onto the overall themes of the original poem - particularly the concepts of isolation and entrapment. But it did so cleverly in a way that commented on society today, particularly our use of social media and the way we connect with people. 

 

Like the The Lady of Shalott, Martuni, the main character played by Gareth Watkins, only has one indirect way of looking at the outside world - through a periscope. And his communication with potential suitors Page, Shepherd, Reaper and Alvar happens through a large machine with a lever and screen. This, we soon gather, is meant to resemble conversations via dating apps. By using such a large and cumbersome machine, I felt that the play was highlighting just how much space our phones, social media and virtual communication take up in our lives - especially when it comes to finding potential love interests. The evolution in Martuni’s character also highlights this. He becomes more and more consumed by the device as the play goes on, dancing excitedly when it starts to ring and ignoring parts of his daily routine that he once described as his ‘primary purpose.’ 

 

When entering the theatre, I was immediately struck by the crowded nature of the set. On the stage was a bed, the periscope, a weaving machine surrounded by tapestry and the communication device. I feel this was intentional, as the lack of space for Martuni to walk around helped add to the sense of entrapment and claustrophobia. It was a clever move on the part of the writers and producers as it made me feel even more connected to the protagonist and empathetic towards his situation. 

 

Another aspect that helped connect the audience with Martuni was the exploration of his sexual desires. Martuni pleasures himself on more than one occasion during the play and does so confidently and unapologetically. It gave a sense that the audience was in a really authentically intimate space with Martuni. 

 

Even though the play dealt with quite heavy themes such as isolation, humour cropped up throughout. In one moment, Martuni gets carried away conjuring up deep and vivid dreams about the world outside his tower. And in another, he’s being asked about mortgage and crime rates and whether he owns his own property. I found myself laughing out loud at various points in the play, which only made it even more enjoyable! 

 

One thing I thought was particularly interesting was the description of the outside world according to the suitors. It was described as dangerous and like a war zone, which is quite different to the idyllic scenery mentioned in the original poem. This made me feel a little hopeless come the end of the play’s 75-minute run when Martuni is set to venture out into the world. If the descriptions by the suitors is anything to go by, Martuni won’t be free to live his fantasy romances. Instead, he’ll be entering a hostile and dangerous war zone with food shortages and droughts. I took this to be a poignant comment on the many worrying aspects of the world we live in today. 

 

Having said that, the play ends on an immensely satisfying high. We’re left in the dark about what will happen to Martuni when he steps outside confinement. Will he fall foul to the same fate as the Lady of Shalott? Or will he be free to turn his dreams of falling in love into a reality? 


This play was one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a while and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Thursday evening. It is showing until 17th February, and tickets can be purchased on The Hope Theatre’s website