Writer: John Fletcher and William Shakespeare
Director: Barrie Rutter
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
After mixed reviews for Michelle Terry’s opening salvo as Artistic Director at the Globe, her third show of the summer is an unquestionable triumph. While Shakespeare scholars continue to debate the writer’s contributions to The Two Noble Kinsman, co-authored with John Fletcher in the 1610s audiences are less familiar with this story of crossed love. The Globe’s new version, directed by Barrie Rutter, makes a decent case for it being one the finest comedies Shakespeare (co-)created.
After defeating the despotic King Creon, Theseus captures his nephews Arcite and Palamon, keeping them in prison while he decides their punishment. The cousins adore each other but their friendship is tested when they spy the beautiful Princess Emilia from the window of the cell and both fall in love with her. Now at odds, Arcite is banished but sets about winning Emilia’s hand in disguise, while Palamon is secretly released by the jailer’s daughter who is in love with him, setting up the chance for a decisive confrontation.
Who wrote what may seem terribly important outside the playhouse, but while watching this delightful production of Two Noble Kinsman you are instantly swept up in this intricate story of love and friendship. It’s simply managed by Rutter who keeps the run time to a very manageable two hours plus an interval – a rarity for the The Globe to stage something so short – and allows the action to flow smoothly from jail to woods to palace with few props and a bit of imagination.
There are some very neat workarounds that give the full flavour of a scene without cluttering the stage, and best among them is the large cart which acts as Arcite and Palamon’s prison cell, wheeled centre stage and affording them that all important view of the strolling Emilia. It’s one of the play’s best and funniest scenes as the two men praise the value of their friendship only seconds later to find themselves the bitterest of enemies, but comically restrained by their shackles.
The final battle is equally well done, as the men wrestle in stop motion on the balcony as Emilia (Ellora Torchia) delivers her speech on being unable to choose between them. Added to this a warm colour palette in Jessica Worrall’s design that encompasses earthy reds and yellows with a primary blue in the costumes, as well as some multicoloured Morris Dancers who create a carnival atmosphere just before the interval, it’s a visual treat.
Bryan Dick is a wonderfully ardent Arcite, able to deliver the comedy line with an easy timing, while make a highly credible lover for Emilia, suggesting a depth and genuine affection. But he also cannot hide an enduring love for his friend, even at their most embattled, Dick displays the care Arcite feels and the regret at their estrangement.
Paul Stocker brings a different approach to Palamon creating a man a tad less noble than his rank implies and someone who perhaps does not deserve the kindness of Arcite. Palamon is occasionally sulky, suspicious and resentful, while Stocker interestingly implies that his professed love for Emilia is more sporting than true, a way to earn victory over his friend.
Among the secondary players, Francesca Mills is a charming Jailer’s Daughter, glowing with love for Palamon – even though they never speak to one another on stage – and driven to madness by his rejection of her. It’s not quite Ophelia, although from the same cause but Mills brings a warm and witty charm to the role, with the line “But you will not hurt me” reminding us of the emotions beneath.
The Globe’s production may largely play as a comedy, and partially relegates the more poignant elements of the plot, but it is a great introduction to a lesser known work. With comparisons to be made with Shakespeare’s other plays from Hamlet to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Two Noble Kinsman is a play you’ll want to see again and again. And with a hotly anticipated Othello with Mark Rylance to come, Michelle Terry’s first season is starting to build up steam.
Runs until 30 June 2018 | Image: Contributed