Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
No one could accuse the Globe of not daring to take risks. For the last part of its adventurous summer's programme, it has tackled one of Shakespeare's last efforts, Two Noble Kinsmen, his collaboration with John Fletcher. The company should be applauded for this alone. This is not a play that's performed very often though why isn't clear - while no masterpiece, it has a lot more to recommend it than some of the other works in the Shakespearean canon.
Like Midsummer Night's Dream, it opens on the eve of Theseus's wedding to Hippolyta, and also like the Dream, it features two young men competing for one woman's love. But there the comparisons end. For the relationship between Palamon and Arcite is the dominant one of the play, as Theseus says at the play's ending, far beyond the love of women.
The two men, Theban princes, are captured by Theseus, and on being conveyed to Athens they both fall in love with Theseus's sister-in-law, Emilia. They shove aside their affection for each other to fight a dual for her hand in marriage. There's also a sub-plot (almost certainly by Fletcher) in which Palamon is freed from prison by the jailer's daughter, after she falls in love with him: only to be driven mad when she realises that he is unattainable.
The director, Tim Carroll , has rightly focused on the relationship between Arcite and Palamon as the crucial one and he has the benefit of two strong performances. Jasper Britton's Palamon is the more hot-headed and passionate of the two, while Will Keen's Arcite is slyer and more worldly wise. The two spark off one another excellently, and how modern the play seems sometimes as a result. The scene in which the two compare past conquests until they collapse in exaggerated laughter is repeated in pubs every weekend. And the pledges they make to each other when shackled together in prison are an uncanny premonition of John McCarthy and Brian Keenan's experiences - an indication of how acute Shakespeare's psychological insights are.
The other strong performance is that of Kate Fleetwood as the jailer' 's daughter. She neatly captures the passion of a young woman in the throes of sexual desire and, if a little unconvincing in the mad scene, it should be remembered that Fletcher is no Shakespeare as he can't resist the temptation to throw in an unrealistic twist in the plot.
Martin Turner is a strongly-spoken Theseus although Geraldine Alexander could not breathe life into Emilia; it was particularly hard to catch what she was saying.
On the night I attended, the house was gratifyingly full. Scattered among the tourists were several theatre devotees attracted by the chance of seeing a rarity among Shakespeare productions - they cheered lustily at the end. Let's hope we don't have to wait for too long to see this intriguing play again.