The Gentleman of Shalott

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?

Reviews by Carrie Goode

Arcola Theatre

When You Pass Over My Tomb

★★★★
The Hope Theatre

The Gentleman of Shalott

★★★★

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

In his isolated tower, with the river running by, Martuni, on his dating app is besieged by suitors trying to lure him into the outside world.

Reaper dreams he is a foetus with two heads, yet longs to be a dog at the foot of Martuni’s bed;

Page wants to rescue Martuni in a hot air balloon and save him from the surrounding war, drought and environmental collapse;

Shepherd invites himself round for chicken sandwiches and trifle, and wants to know whether interest rates will go up, down or remain roughly about the same. 

Martuni responds by weaving his tapestry and pleasuring himself, until one day he falls in love and his world begins to change.

The Gentleman of Shalott is a queer adaptation of Tennyson’s poem  The Lady of Shalott influenced by the Theatre of the Absurd. It explores themes of isolation; social media-induced anxiety; neurodiversity and our unwillingness to confront the climate crisis. 

Through the character of Martuni, we are challenged to question who we might pretend to be and what lives we might invent for ourselves if we were prevented from meeting anyone in the real world.

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