Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 30 June 2018
It’s crazy what we’ll do for love. In the lively Two Noble Kinsmen two cousins are prepared to kill each other for it while a lovesick young girl is driven insane by the very thought of it.
Barrie Rutter, now footloose and fancy-free after departing Northern Broadsides, returns to London’s Cheapside after 22 years to direct a story of unrequited love. It was written by Shakespeare and thrusting young pretender, John Fletcher, and is one of the Bard’s few acknowledged collaborations.
And you can’t help feeling that the, dare I say it, sedate, flowery prose belongs to the great man while the sharper action scenes and comedy comes from a rising talent whose career was cut short by the plague 11 years later. Rutter has created an exuberant production, which turns a slight and convoluted story that had been cobbled together from a number of other works – including Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale – into a rollicking good romcom.
There are muscular turns by Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker as the titular kinsmen but it is Francesca Mills who steals everyone’s hearts as the Jailor’s Daughter – poor lass isn’t even honoured with a name – who falls head-over-heels in love with entirely the wrong man and pays the price.
There are times when The Two Noble Kinsmen is hard to follow. Indeed some Americans sitting near me expressed loudly that they didn’t know what the hell was going on and they left during the interval.
The, quite frankly, daft and badly edited, plot often feels like its two authors wrote separately and then just cobbled their scenes together without thinking about the flow and coherence.
The play’s prologue has three queens begging Theseus for the return of the bodies of their fallen husbands.
It’s very well acted by Sue Devaney, Melissa James and Kat Rose-Martin, but has no relationship to the rest of the story, thereby throwing audiences off kilter from the beginning.
However, it does herald what is to come from the inventive director when the solemn funeral march, accompanying the cortege, is suddenly jazzed up New Orleans-style.
The story then perks up when we join Arcite (Bryan Dick) and Palamon (Stocker), working out.
Cousins, best buddies, and experienced soldiers the pair, in tight vests to show off their ripped physiques, emanate testosterone and machismo.
They pledge allegiance and love to each other. But that all changes in a heartbeat, when they spot the beautiful Emilia (Ellora Torchia).
The pair have been captured by Theseus (we know not how) and, from their prison cell, they can see the fair maiden walking in a garden. Both are smitten.
Palamon is furious. “I saw her first!” he snaps.
Curiously Arcite is given his freedom (again, no explanations), but banished from the land, while poor Palamon is moved to a prison cell without any windows.
The jailor’s daughter becomes besotted with the fallen hero and helps him escape.
But true love doesn’t go well for anyone.
Shakespeare’s royalty, Theseus and Hippolyta, are back but only as a framing device which is a bit of a waste.
Noble and dignified Moyo Akandé looks spectacular as the Amazonian huntress queen in a stunning red corseted costume from Jessica Worrell.
But her husband, Jude Akuwudike’s Theseus, is rather weak and indecisive, henpecked by wife, pleading widows and even his sister-in-law, Emilia.
As the story unfolds, with the men at each other’s throats, Emilia not wanting to commit to either and the jailor’s daughter literally at her wit’s end, the comedy comes from Devaney, back as a doctor, Andy Cryer as the jailor, and Jon Trenchard as the lass’s abandoned beau.
We don’t see anywhere near enough of underused Jos Vantyler who demonstrates a superbly powerful singing voice during the finale.
The Two Noble Kinsmen has been described as “a Jacobean dramatisation of a medieval English tale based on an Italian romance version of a Latin epic about one of the oldest and most tragic Greek legends.”
But its director has relished the opportunity to beef up its English roots by turning a merrie May Day Morris dancing scene into a spirited, joyful, full scale spectacular that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical.
Worrall’s costumes for the entire show are gorgeous. Eye-catching and vibrant they are at their best with the Morris, Vantyler dressed in verdant leaves as The Green Man, and the troupe in a dazzling rainbow of colours and clogs.
A fun-filled boisterous romp that’s worth sticking with. It might not make much sense but there are some outstanding performances and flashes of Barrie Rutter’s famously fresh, unstuffy, unorthodox direction.
The Two Noble Kinsmen runs in rep at The Globe until June 30.