Studio 77, Victoria University, 77 Fairlie Tce, Kelburn, Wellington

07/10/2014 - 11/10/2014

Production Details

A romantic (tragi)comedy with swords 

A love to fight for.  A love to drive you mad. A daughter lost in the woods. An imperfect win. 

Victoria University of Wellington’s THEA 301 tackle Jacobean tragicomedy in the Wellington premiere of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s rarely performed The Two Noble Kinsmen

This little known Shakespeare play is based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. Two cousins, Palamon and Arcite, fall in love at first sight with the fair lady Emilia. The pair’s friendship is tested when it is decided they must fight to the death for the love of Emilia. Meanwhile the daughter of a Jailer falls in love with one of the cousins, Palamon, but loses herself in the woods in the fight to allure her man. In the end one man gets his bride, but is there really a winner?

The director, Lori Leigh, asserts that “The Two Noble Kinsmen is a gorgeous play. Received ‘with great applause’ as it states on the title page of the quarto, the play is Shakespeare and Fletcher’s coming-of-age postmodern fairy tale of friendship, rivalry, and heart-breaking love in its various forms.” 

The Two Noble Kinsmen will be the graduating production for many of the 21 cast members at Victoria University. This group of 300-level theatre students have spent the trimester studying Shakespearean staging conventions, verse speaking, and dramaturgy. “The research and now the rehearsals for this show have been long and hard,” says company member Charlotte Pleasants, who plays First Queen. ”But, because we’ve put in (and are still putting in) that effort till 10 o’clock at night, we all have confidence that it will result in a truly fantastic piece of theatre.”

This production of The Two Noble Kinsmen will be part of Shakespeare’s Globe Centre New Zealand’s 2014 Shakespeare Lives, a celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth including performances of the entire canon filmed for YouTube.

Come join us for an evening filled with knights, sword-fights, Amazons, and our own special spin on Morris Dancing.

7 – 11th October 7pm
Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn  
$8 unwaged, $15 Waged 
Bookings:, 04 4635359 

Many delicacies to be savoured

Review by John Smythe 08th Oct 2014

Two men – the very best of mates – fall in love with the same woman. Who is the more worthy suitor and how is it to be decided? By a fight to the death, of course. That’s what men do.

Giovanni Boccaccio’s epic poem Teseida delle Nozze d’Emilia (The Theseid, Concerning the Nuptials of Emily) inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s briefer The Knight’s Tale (first in The Canterbury Tales) which in turn spawned Palamon and Arcite, a play by Richard Edwardes (1566).*

The prologue to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen – first performed at Blackfriars in 1614 – tells us “Chaucer (of all admir’d) the story gives; There constant to eternity it lives.” In Lori Leigh’s production – the first ever in Wellington, it’s claimed – the prologue is sung, beautifully, as a wedding processional for Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, his trophy wife from a recent war with the Amazons.

We may be forgiven for thinking we’re in the last act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, except instead of being diverted by the rude mechanicals’ rendition of The Tragical Tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, the post-wedding entertainment is interrupted by what, at first glance, looks like a visitation of the ‘weird sisters’ from Macbeth.

In fact they are three very determined Thebian Queens whose war-dead husbands have been denied proper burial by the despotic King, Creon. Theseus is prevailed upon to postpone his wedding night in favour of raising an army against Creon to see justice done, this being the way of that ancient world. (Oh wait – it’s still happening that way.)

The titular noblemen, Palamon and Arcite, are cousins. Also united in their dislike of their tyrannical Uncle Creon, they nevertheless defend their homeland, and are defeated and wounded. But because Theseus admires their warrior skills, he takes them back to Athens to recuperate, albeit as prisoners-of-war.

Having sworn eternal friendship and fidelity to each other – “We are one another’s wife, ever begetting New births of love” – Palamon and Arcite espy Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia, in the garden. Both fall instantly and deeply in love with her, although Palamon worships her as a Goddess while Arcite loves her as a Woman.

Meanwhile the Jailer’s Daughter – who unaccountably has no name despite being given a major storyline and a number of soliloquies – has disregarded her own lovelorn Wooer (also unnamed) and fallen in love with Palamon. But when she facilitates his escape from jail, he disregards her.

While Palamon is a fugitive hiding out in the forest, Arcite has been freed but banished. In disguise, he excels at the Athenian Sports and Theseus rewards him by making him a servant to Emilia. But the rom-com potential of this set-up remains unexplored in favour of following the misfortunes of the Jailer’s Daughter who, lost in the forest, is going mad – not least because Palamon’s jail-break has resulted in her father being condemned to hang.

The obligatory comic interlude is provided by a Schoolmaster rehearsing the Country People into a dance, which is performed for an indulgent Duke and Duchess.

When the kinsmen are reunited in the forest they reaffirm their eternal love then fight a duel over Emilia (because that is the noble thing to do) and for their pains Theseus sentences them to death (because that’s what Athenian rulers do). He is prevailed on to show mercy but Emilia is unable to choose between the Thebian princes so Theseus commits them to a trial of supremacy: the winner will gain Emilia; the loser will be sentenced to death.

Meaning may be gleaned from the fact that Arcite prays to Mars (the God of War) while Palamon makes obeisance to Venus (Goddess of Love). And the virginal Emelia prays to Diana, the virgin goddess of childbirth and women (also known as the Goddess of Art). There are twists in resolving both storylines that I won’t reveal hear. Suffice to say both are bittersweet and dubbing the play a romantic tragi-comedy is entirely appropriate.   

Aficionados will catch many whiffs and snatches of Shakespeare’s better-known plays as this clearly comprehended and energetically presented production plays out. Too often, however, I can’t hear the play for the shouting. Hopefully, as the season progresses the cast will find the confidence to invite us in to explore the subtler dimensions of the human condition. There are many delicacies to be savoured.

Diesel McGrath (Palamon) and James Cain (Arcite) embrace their roles – and each other – with great intelligence and wit. As Emilia, Stevie Hancox-Monk captures well the dilemma of a compassionate if not passionate woman obliged to be treated as a trophy. Mouce Young makes the Jailer’s Daughter the most compelling character, commanding our empathy as she tries to navigate a society ill-disposed to the lower classes.

The whole well-rehearsed ensemble work diligently to keep the story flowing although I have to suggest that comedy works better when played for truth; the more it’s played as ‘Komedy’ the less funny it is (except maybe to your mates).

This rare opportunity to see The Two Noble Kinsmen is very welcome and recommended. What stays with me is a clear impression of how warped and counterproductive male value systems and the patriarchal societies they engender are.
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*Whether it was this or yet another version that Philip Henslowe diarised as a performed in 1594 is unknown, and Edwardes’ text has not survived.


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