The Two Noble Kinsmen is a creaky play by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. If Alex Trebek were to ask you “what is Shakespeare’s last play, press the button quickly and say “The Two Noble Kinsmen.” No, it is not The Tempest. That was Shakespeare’s last complete play. Shakespeare’s Globe gives it a largely worthy production that cannot erase the play’s weaknesses but we are happy to see it.
The plot has ancient provenance. Like everything worthwhile in the world, it started as a Greek legend, wound itself through Roman culture and, unlike the Parthenon Marbles, landed honestly in England. (No, they are not the Elgin Marbles. Stolen items are not named after the thief).With Chaucer using the legend for The Knight’s Tale and other writers penning poetry and plays based on it, it’s curious that Shakespeare did not use the tale for one of his plays until near the end of his life and then only as a collaborator of John Fletcher.
Palamon (Paul Stocker) and Arcite (Bryan Dick) are knights who were captured by Theseus (Jude Akuwudike) in a war against Creon. (Don’t sweat the details.) While in jail as captives, the two knights tell us that they are cousins and the closest of friends and nothing will ever separate them. Then they see the gorgeous Princess Emilia, Theseus’ sister-in-law and fall madly in love with her. That puts an end to their friendship and they become mortal enemies without having exchanged a word with Emilia. Remember that courtly love in which the knights engage is a long distance affair and contact with the object of love and adoration is not required, in fact it is undesirable because it ruins everything.
We have a no-name Jailer (Andy Cryer) who has a no-name Jailer’s Daughter (Francesca Mills who falls in love with Arcite who is banished from Theseus’ Kingdom but returns for Emilia. In the meantime, the Jailer’s Daughter has fallen in love with Palamon and the plot thickens.
The two cousins meet in combat to decide who will get Emilia (who does not say very much). The Jailer’s Daughter goes nuts because Palamon does not love her but a doctor (Jos Vantyler) finds a cure: get her no-name dolt of a Wooer to dress up like Palamon, agree to marry her and that will cure her of her madness.
The heroic tale is spiced with some humour, singing and dancing. The cousins are typical young men that can be seen on the street and there is nothing knightly about them. Theseus has a commanding presence and the statuesque and beautiful Moyo Akandé has an impressive presence as Hippolyta.
Mills is a midget and a ball of fire. She has comic skills galore and thanks to her size can be tossed around easily. She is the most memorable character of the play as the lower class daughter of a jailer who aspires to marry a knight. After a bout of madness, she finds a husband and happiness.
Cryer’s Jailer has a rich working-class accent and gives a fine portrayal.
Director Barrie Rutter handles the play with a light touch, with music, dancing and comic business. The choreography of Ewan Wardrop helps as does the music of Eliza Carthy. I suppose it is the best way to treat the play because otherwise it may well prove to be a heroic, romantic bore. You want to see The Two Noble Kinsmen a few times during your life honoris causa and to check what can be done with the play. You may adopt this production as one of them
The Two Noble Kinsmen by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare continues until June 30, 2018 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London. www.shakespearesglobe.com