Globe Player, Shakespeare's Globe, London

05/05/2020 - 18/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

‘This hand shall never more come near thee with such friendship.’

Barrie Rutter, recipient of the 2003 Sam Wanamaker Award, directs his first play since stepping down as Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides.

Inspired by the play’s Morris language and references, The Two Noble Kinsmen is set in pastoral ‘Merrie England’ and brought to life with original music composed by acclaimed folk musician Eliza Carthy, and dance choreographed by Ewan Wardrop. 

How long is forever? When the imprisoned Palamon and Arcite vow eternal friendship, they don’t expect that anything will come between them. But then from their cell window they see the beautiful Emilia, and their priorities take a sudden and violent turn. In this late romance, Fletcher and Shakespeare examine love in all its fluid and complex forms.

Running Time: 130 mins

Free 4-17 May 2020 from 7pm UK time / 5-18 May 2020 from 6pm NZ time 
Rent or Purchase   

Schoolmaster:  Jos Vantyler 
Theseus:  Jude Akuwudike 
Hippolyta:  Moyo Akandé 
Jailer:  Andy Cryer 
First Queen:  Sue Devaney 
Arcite:  Bryan Dick 
Pirithous:  Matt Henry 
Second Queen:  Melissa James 
Jailer’s Daughter:  Francesca Mills
Third Queen:  Kat Rose-Martin
Palamon:  Paul Stocker
Emilia:  Ellora Torchia
Wooer:  Jon Trenchard 

Writers:  John Fletcher and William Shakespeare
Director:  Barrie Rutter
Designer:  Jessica Worrall
Assistant Director:  Chloe France
Composer:  Eliza Carthy
Costume Supervisor:  Anna Josephs
Choreographer:  Ewan Wardrop
Fight Director:  Kevin McCurdy
Voice:  Sarah Case

Theatre ,

2 hrs 10 mins

A pacey blend of comedy and tragedy, elegance and ridiculousness, with a timely message

Review by Terry MacTavish 06th May 2020

How timely! For covid lockdown the Globe shares its light-hearted, rambunctious Two Noble Kinsmen, which I think of as William Shakespeare’s lock-down play. It is his very last, written during his retirement to Stratford on Avon, in collaboration with his replacement at the Globe Theatre, playwright-in-residence John Fletcher. We cannot know of course, but I suspect Will must have found it hard to really ‘drown his book’, or worse, watch a successful but inferior writer snatch it up. 

Bardophiles would have been happier for his career to end triumphantly with the acclaimed Tempest. It has taken a long time to overcome their reluctance and accept this lesser play as genuine, with Shakespeare responsible for at least half, including the opening scenes and most of the last act. Though not, to my relief, the prologue, with its somewhat unsavoury comparison of new plays to maidenheads! This appealing Shakespeare’s Globe production directed by Barrie Rutter is proof that it would be a loss indeed to dismiss it as unworthy of the canon.

It is fascinating to imagine Shakespeare and Fletcher working in their respective bubbles of Stratford and London, deciding on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, then choosing the longest, most aristocratic tale, told by the Knight who has fought against ‘infidels’ all over Europe and is upheld as a perfect example of chivalry. Naturally the story the Knight tells his fellow pilgrims is far removed from the bawdiness of the drunken Miller’s Tale, being a courtly history set in classical Greece, but oozing with medieval notions of love, war and chivalry, and plenty of philosophising about the folly of pining for the remarkably green grass next door.

The collaborators’ lively version cuts to the chase; none of Chaucer’s leisurely unfolding over seven or so years. In the first brisk scene, the wedding procession of Theseus of Athens (yes, he is marrying Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, just as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is interrupted by angry royal widows, who persuade him to wage war on Creon of Thebes to retrieve their husbands’ bodies. Abruptly we are in Thebes, meeting two dashing princes, the kinsmen Arcite and Palamon, reluctantly obliged to fight for Creon, their uncle. Back to Athens, where we learn Theseus (dignified Jude Akuwudike) has triumphed, bringing as prisoners the valiant princes, acted with swashbuckling zest by Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker.

So now here we are with the inseparable cousins, Arcite in sky blue and Palamon in daffodil yellow, in their very own bubble – actually a cleverly-utilised cart in which they are manacled – extolling their unbreakable buddy-bond. “We are one another’s wife!” Arcite goes so far as to exclaim. Then they spot Hippolyta’s lovely sister Emilia picking flowers, and its goodbye to brotherhood, bring on the strife. Kill each other if possible. O, very noble. Boys.

Emilia (tenderly played by Ellora Torchia) is quite unaware of their passion – indeed we have learnt in a charming scene with her sister Hippolyta (an elegant Moyo Akandé) that any love she feels is for her dead best friend, Flavina. Not that it will matter, she knows she is merely a commodity and must accept any suitor Theseus chooses.

The plot continues to teeter between comedy and tragedy, though Rutter and his merry crew never allow us to take the tragedy too seriously. Even the black-clad widows twirl their umbrellas in a jaunty swing number as they celebrate burying their husbands at last.

The sub-plot leans to the darker side of Jacobean theatre, an unhealthy tendency to find entertainment in tragic insanity – ‘‘let’s go laugh at the lunatics in Bedlam’’ – but this is no Changeling, nor even Hamlet with poor Ophelia drowning in her madness. Our wronged maiden is not upper-class and thus naturally sensitive, but the Jailor’s Daughter, without even the dignity of a name. She falls hopelessly in love with Palamon, spurning her clumsy swain the Wooer, and risks her father’s life to free the prince. 

The vibrant highlight of this production is when her story merges with that of the local yokels who are rehearsing a Morris dance to entertain the gentry for Theseus’ wedding (again yes, just like Bottom and the Mechanicals in Dream). Lacking one female, they are thrilled to realise that the Jailor’s Daughter’s demented performance will give them a winning edge. As Fletcher was responsible for most of the sub-plot scenes, it is hard not to suspect him of deliberately making a mockery of Shakespeare’s tragic Ophelia. Whatever, it’s a madly joyful result, directed by fussy Gerrald the Schoolmaster (Jos Vantyler), gorgeously re-costumed as the Green Man, literally trailing his coat to seduce the audience. Eliza Carthy’s irresistible music from the gallery and brightly-coloured fluttering ribbons accompany the spirited dancing, choreographed by Ewan Wardrop.

The cast is a joy, especially the Jailor’s Daughter, played with transcendent sincerity and a riotous turn for comedy by Francesca Mills, an amazing actor who just happens to be under 4 feet tall,* with wide blue eyes and endearing gap-toothed smile. The audience is utterly adoring as she gazes enraptured at the Kinsmen, uttering, “It is a holiday to look at them,” then after a glance at her own Wooer, with hilarious intensity, adds, “Lord, the difference of men!!” The Globe under Artistic Director Michelle Terry is wonderfully inclusive, the cast ethnically diverse, the accents various, but the technique of the actors uniformly impeccable.

The authentic Shakespeare’s Globe stage is traditionally bare, but designer Jessica Worrall has softened the floor and pillars with a little green moss, quite sufficient background for the luscious costumes: crimson, purple and burgundy, velvet and leather, the women’s skirts split to reveal serviceable trousers, with attractively form-fitting cropped jackets for all. The working class are in earthier tones of mustard and brown, while the Kinsmen’s bright blue and yellow clash cheerfully with all. 

Due to its mixed parentage The Two Noble Kinsmen has never been a popular or frequent choice, but strangely I have been in Britain to see three of the most significant productions: 1974 Regent Park’s Open Air show which the critics reported credible because of the ‘sex-kittenish’ allure of Emilia, the 1979 Edinburgh Festival production that was all-male, and the 1986 opening of Stratford’s Swan Theatre with a praiseworthy performance by Imogen Stubbs as Jailor’s Daughter. Yet there is no question about it – I find this Globe interpretation much the best for sheer fun. 

The Two Noble Kinsman may be Shakespeare’s final work, but in the deft hands of Rutter and the Globe actors it is sure to work brilliantly as a starter play. Every teacher who has rejoiced over the success of the foolish lovers and mechanicals of Midsummer Night’s Dream in capturing adolescent empathy should seize on this video immediately. The silliness of the young lovers, the vigorous fight scenes balanced with effective freeze-frames, the catchy music, the mad Morris folk-dancing contrasted with the elegant rituals of the courtiers, the ridiculous characters, the pace and urgency, maybe a bit shouty at times, but sweeping you along – what’s not to love? 

Then there is the magic of the circular Globe theatre itself, the audience so much part of the action, and the filming now so adept that it is possible to feel not just in the audience, but on the stage. (I’m personally tickled to catch a moment when Emilia, embracing one of the widowed queens, manages to get her bracelet tangled up in the widow’s long plait.) Please do reward this precious asset to theatre with a donation! 

So, a fabulous introduction to Shakespeare for the young, but also a gift to the more mature, looking for the positive side of isolation, and surely finding it in the opportunity to share the Globe’s superb repertoire, particularly a romp as jolly as this. Underlying all the jubilation, Shakespeare and Fletcher have much to say on the foolishness of yearning for the unattainable, concluding with a most appropriate message for our times: “Let us be thankful for that which is.” 
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*See Francesca Mills’ blog post,A goal without a plan is just a wish.’


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