Michelle Terry’s opening season at the Globe continues with Two Noble Kinsmen, the first of what will apparently be a series of plays exploring “the character Emilia through Shakespeare’s works”. Here, she is at the centre of a love triangle between cousins Palamon and Arcite.
Running at a tight two hours 15 minutes, this tragicomedy still squeezes in a lot of Shakespearean tropes: a tyrant king, a last-minute death, and a young woman driven to madness by love. Commonly attributed to both Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the source material is erratic at best, but Barrie Rutter’s direction keeps the play together. Coupled with Jessica Worrall’s design, which leaves the grass-covered stage looking like an enchanted forest and the characters leaping between jewel-toned block colours and fringed dance costumes, the production is both lighthearted and light on its feet, with choreographer Ewan Wardrop’s work particularly standing out.
The production is played for laughs, but the jokes don’t always land. Francesca Mills has great comic timing as the jailer’s daughter, as do Paul Stocker and Bryan Dick when they bounce off each other as Palamon and Arcite. However, individually it’s hard to care about either of them, which leaves the climax distinctly lacking in tension, despite the imaginatively staged fight scene. Taking place on a balcony crowded with musicians and half the cast, Emilia is left on the vast stage, looking lonely and uncertain in a play that rarely suggests her admiration for her suitors’ exploits ever crosses into love.
The emphasis on the comedy also means that the tragic aspects fall by the wayside, with Emilia’s quandary about her suitors and Arcite’s dying declaration holding little dramatic weight. Two Noble Kinsmen is performed rarely, and this production, while fun, makes only a mixed case for this to change.