Writers: John Fletcher and William Shakespeare
Director: Barrie Rutter
A company of 18, including musicians, crowds the stage and the camera captures them over the heads of a packed standing audience. This recording of Barrie Rutter’s production for the Globe Theatre of The Two Noble Kinsmen transports us back to a balmy summer’s evening by the side of the Thames in 2018, when social distancing lay only in the distant future.
The play, a rarely performed collaboration between John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, is based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. It is believed to have been Shakespeare’s final work before retirement. Theseus, Duke of Athens (an authoritative Jude Akuwudike) is about to marry Hippolyta (Moyo Akandé) when he is confronted by three wronged queens demanding that he should wage war on the evil tyrant, Creon of Thebes. There is much gravitas to earlier scenes, with characters heralded on and off by fanfares of trumpets and drums, but the tyrant never appears and the action does not get round to any war.
Instead, we are introduced to the titular characters, cousins Arcite (Bryan Dick) and Palamon (Paul Stocker), who bear allegiance, if not affection, to Creon and are taken prisoners. When both glimpse and fall for Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia (Ellora Torchia) through a prison window, their friendship turns into rivalry and the play’s sombre tone turns intermittently into broad comedy. Dick and Stocker fare well in balancing their characters’ noble demeanours with uninhibited clowning, but the humour becomes hard to sustain.
If Rutter’s staging sometimes feels clunky, the fault lies mainly with a play that rarely settles on a steady path. In the first half, there is little continuity between scenes, giving the feel of a string of revue sketches. When the comedy threatens to become tedious, Rutter livens things up with brightly coloured merriment, energised to a great extent by Francesca Mills as a jailer’s daughter. Jessica Worrall’s costumes, Eliza Carthy’s music and Ewan Wardrop’s choreography all contribute towards ensuring that there is sufficient happening on the stage to compensate for a shortage of substance in the writing.
Much of the fun of any production at the Globe comes from experiencing the Globe itself and here the camera does a good job of reproducing the spectacle and the sound quality is crisp and clear. Running for just 2 hours, this recording is not a long hard slog, but the play is a curiosity more than a classic. It is one to see if only to tick it off the list of 37 (or is it 41?) by the Bard, but it is not one to remember for very long.
Available here until 17 May 2020