The Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe online
The Two Noble Kinsmen is the last play that Shakespeare completed and is a collaboration with playwright John Fletcher. It is seldom performed, so it excites curiosity whenever it reappears on stage. Artistic director Michelle Terry chose to revive it during her first season at the Globe, in 2018. A tightening of the plot, coupled with Barrie Rutter’s adept direction and an incredible cast, make one wonder why this comedy is not brought to audiences more often. When its potential is fully tapped onto, it becomes a wonderfully entertaining experience.
The main storyline is that of cousins Palamon and Arcite, who fall in love with the same lady, Emilia, while a subplot sees a jailer’s daughter pursue Palamon when he is imprisoned. While not the most structurally complex of the Bard’s plays, it contains many recurring Shakespearean elements such as a tyrant king, imprisonments, unrequited love, infatuation and madness. The story borrows from Chaucer’s tales, but it also brings in a number of other interesting aspects that deserve attention.
For instance, the inclusion of Greek myths, both explicitly and indirectly, through the setting, themes and tone of the play, adds another dimension. Just like the heroes of Greek tragedies, the characters’ destinies unfold in a fatalistic way and they cannot escape their fate. While the title characters are men, there is also a central dilemma concerning the female experience. Emilia belongs to the noble class, while the jailer’s daughter is of a modest background, but each must deal with the same discordance between choosing a lover and being chosen, and each discovers the limits of her freedom as her affections are manipulated by male authorities.
The cast cannot be faulted. Their energy and comic timing set the right tempo and inject vitality into the action. Francesca Mills almost steals the show with her dynamic interventions as the jailer’s daughter, but even those with the smallest parts do full justice to each line. The story is bittersweet as every joy and each dance is countered by a sorrowful episode or a defeat. But the lavish, vibrant costumes and cheerful dancing means that merriment ultimately takes over.
Fun and exuberant, this production is a must-watch for anyone who loves Shakespeare, but it also makes for a great introduction to the playwright’s comedies, as it is very accessible and genuinely humorous.
Photo: Nobby Clark
The Two Noble Kinsmen is available to stream on the Globe’s website from 4th May. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.