William Shakespeare’s little known and last project (in collaboration with John Fletcher) has been rather forgotten by the theatre-going public, debated by academics but left on the shelf to gather dust. Excluded from most Shakespeare festivals and uncredited for a long time, this play does not give us the classic grander, that say The Tempest does. But within this quiet gem of a play, there is some great humour, although whether it is in the same cartography as his better-known work is up for debate.
The play is set in ancient Rome and is a classic love triangle with a slight twist, based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Night’s Tale (forget Heath Ledger, no relation). The play is therefore infused with very medieval themes (if you dislike Morris dancing run for the hills) that can sometimes be a tad confusing considering the Roman references. Although heterosexual love is championed throughout, a lot of the focus of friendship is centred on same-sex affection, both in men and women. The show is supremely funny and unlike Shakespeare’s tragedies, the bawdy nature of the comedy seems to be almost tongue in cheek as the hypocritical and intense characters protest to the god, each other, or to royally ruin their own lives.
The show itself is of a high quality, although there are a few blotches on its bloom, as my first time watching a show in the globe the venues is truly amazing, the smell of wood and the open element is wonderful. But at the same time it is sometimes hard to hear the actors and some speech was lost. There is an interesting mix and use of music, with a lot of folk references (enter the Morris dancers) juxtaposed with a more jazz/bluegrass style band. This is a great idea but some of the songs feel a little shaky and the mix didn’t always play into the piece’s favour. Also, although the text hints at the value of same-sex friendship and love, the production rather cowardly ducks away from addressing this in a more comic or imaginative way. I feel a trick is lost with this and with a relatively unknown play that is seeing the light of day after a long time in the dark, a brave and shocking staging is what is required.
Overall the play is enjoyable, the humour is very sexual and the production revels in that. Francesca Mills steals the show in this and every respect for her physical and complex comedy. The story is about a love triangle between two cousins and a princess, and while Mills isn’t even named, she shines! Playing an Ophelia-like role driven mad by unrequited love, her presence on stage, wit and dark humour holds the audience under her spell. The rest of the performances are acceptable, but not particularly memorable.
The show is lighter than most of Shakespeare’s earlier work and pleasant to watch, but I can see why it has been left by the wayside. Maybe through the collaborative process and maybe through the changes made after Shakespeare’s death, this show is not quite at the same standard as his more famous plays. The company tries their best with the text, but it comes off as slightly shallow and a little fluffy. This is undoubtedly funnier than most of Shakespeare’s classics, but with the rather stereotypical role of women, and a rather unremarkable plot both the show and the production is slightly forgettable. We don’t feel that Shakespeare magic, that feeling of watching language finally come alive and dance before your eyes. I would recommend it for hardcore fans, but give me A Midsummer Night’s Dream any day.
The Two Noble Kinsmen is playing at The Globe Theatre until 30 June
Photo: Nobby Clark