Review: The Two Noble Kinsmen (Shakespeare's Globe)

Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s play is directed by Barrie Rutter as part of Michelle Terry’s season

The company of The Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare's Globe
The company of The Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare's Globe
© Nobby Clark

Did he or didn't he write it? The debate around authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen stemmed from the fact that the play wasn't printed in the First Folio and, as a result, is rarely staged. But most are now agreed that this is a work by Shakespeare, albeit written with some help by John Fletcher. And so here it is, happily sitting slap bang in the middle of Michelle Terry's first season at Shakespeare's Globe. And what a lot of mad fun it is.

Teetering somewhat precariously between tragedy and comedy, The Two Noble Kinsmen echoes several of the Bard's other works, from Midsummer to Hamlet. The characters of Theseus and Hippolyta pop up in this play as rulers and after a battle with Creon they take two talented knights – cousins and firm best friends Palamon and Arcite – capture. While the cousins are locked up, they each see, through the window of their cell, Theseus' beautiful sister-in-law Emilia, and immediately fall desperately in love. Where once they were bosom buddies, suddenly they are at loggerheads: they will fight each other to the death to be with her.

They both manage to escape from their cell, Arcite because he is banished, Palamon through the help of the Jailer's Daughter – who in her turn is hopelessly in love with him. And off they trot on their journey to bag Emilia. When they finally challenge each other to a duel, apparently there's not much else for Emilia, Theseus and Hippolyta – who all eventually become aware of the predicament – to do than to agree to it. The best man of the fight will get Emilia, the loser will lose his head.

The Two Noble Kinsmen feels lighter – the scenes are many and come quickly – than most works by Shakespeare. But there are still the layers upon layers of narrative and double twists and it borrows several characters from other plays – you'll recognise Ophelia in the mad scenes of the poor Jailer's Daughter. Director Barrie Rutter, his first gig after leaving Northern Broadsides, beautifully draws out the morris dance scenes – performed by a company not miles away from the Mechanicals. The dance is a merry England romp, haunted by the green man and full of clog dancing, brightly coloured get up and thumping numbers.

Francesca Mills, as the Jailer's Daughter, is a brilliant spurned lover, using physicality in her scenes to play the comedy as well as the tragedy of a women who doesn't get to choose in life. Her sadness and lunacy is a connecting thread through the scenes and she is a remarkable stage presence; funny, engaging, relatable while delivering well-balanced pathos. The rest of the cast are also strong, with Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker playing up the occasional humour of their moments well. Their scene in their cell is very funny, but after that it is heavy frowns all the way. Ellora Torchia is a touching, caring Emilia and she and Moyo Akande bring out an acute sense of their sisterly love.

That is really what The Two Noble Kinsmen is about. The close connection between friends and how that can break so horribly. Rutter doesn't quite manage to bring the full force of that forward here, but in a production that's as all-embracing of the play's silliness, plus with the stand-out turn from Mills, it's hard to care. Whether Shakespeare or not, it's a great night out.