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  • Writer's pictureEstelle Luck


🎭 The Gentleman of Shalott 

📍 The Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RL

🗓 Thursday 8th February 2024


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 a 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

Estelle Luck

All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.

My ticket for this performance of The Gentleman of Shalott was gifted and I was invited to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.


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