Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare's Globe is a return to what the venue does best

Simon Thomson
Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker in Two Noble Kinsmen
Two Noble Kinsmen

Shakespeare's Globe

Two Noble Kinsmen is a welcome return to the kind of traditionally staged Shakespeare for which the Globe is so well-suited. After its experiment with more modern techniques, under divisive former artistic director Emma Rice, her replacement – the actress Michelle Terry – is playing to the venue’s strengths.

One of the last of Shakespeare’s plays, Two Noble Kinsmen is rarely performed, so for many this will be their first opportunity to see it live. Though for some time a controversial proposition, it is now generally accepted that it was co-written by John Fletcher, while the main plot has been lifted from The Knight’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

It is a story of rivalry between two cousins, who were once the best of friends, but fall out over love for a girl. The cousins, Arcite and Palamon, are nephews of King Creon of Thebes, and the events of this play are precipitated by things that occurred in the classical Greek drama Antigone. It is amusing – and probably accurate – to regard the work as Shakespeare’s Sophocles fan-fic.Director Barrie Rutter, formerly of Northern Broadsides, brings his trademark energy and inventiveness to the production.

Although there aren’t as many Midlands accents present here as you might expect, a Scottish Queen Hippolyta is a pleasant surprise. Exploding with dance and music, Rutter has taken the songs, which are often one of the most tedious elements of Shakespeare, and made them among the most enjoyable – imagine Wicker Man-folk by way of Kurt Weill – dragging in everything from Morris dancing to New Orleans funeral processions along the way, and all of it punched up by the contributions of an onstage band.

The acting is generally very good, with fine performances from Paul Stocker as Palamon and Andy Cryer as the Jailer, but stealing every scene with exaggerated facial expressions, slapstick, and boisterous zeal is Francesca Mills, as the Jailer’s daughter. “A dainty mad woman”, she has an affinity with the language that makes her delivery seem effortlessly natural.Two Noble Kinsmen is a return to the Globe doing what the Globe does best, and it is a joy to behold.

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