Review: The Gentleman of Shalott, Hope Theatre

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *