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Posted by : RodDungate on Sep 04, 2016 - 04:54 PM RSC
Stratford Upon Avon
TWO NOBLE KINSMEN: William Shakespeare, John Fletcher

RSC: The Swan to 04 02 17

Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 3 hrs, one interval
Tkts: 0844 800 1110


Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 3 September 2016

A shaky start but comes powerfully into its own

TWO NOBLE KINSMEN is a collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher – the two of them worked together on other projects. Rarely performed, it's not perfect, but it's intriguing in its gender politics. Very much a play in two halves, at least in this production.

Palamon and Arcite are young cousins and bosom pals, aristocratic warriors. However, they are taken prisoners of war by the Duke of Athens, Theseus; they fall in love with Theseus's bride's sister – the bride Hyppolyta and the sister Emilia. So we have two young men in love with one woman, and they are prepared to fight it out; and this is no Midsummer Night's Dream lover-squabble, this is to the death. We sense there will be no comedic happy ending, and, indeed there isn't – and the play keeps you guessing.

The play itself is very much an antidote to testosterone driven machismo. It is the women who sue for love and life, both Emilia and the warrior queen Hyppolyta. We might note in passing that this is not the first time Fletcher (with or without WS) would borrow Shakespeare characters and reflect back a more modern view of sexual politics. (For those interested, see Fletcher's THE TAMER TAMED.)

The first half, in which the leads fight and challenge, in which the women challenge other established views is hi-energy. However, there is a sense that variations of rhythm and dynamic should have been brought more to the fore; it feels as if at times there is an awful lot of shouting. It could be argued that this echoes the disharmony in the play's world, but it's wearing on us, and wearing, too, on some of the actors' voices.

The second half, though, more than rescues the play. Director (Blanche McIntyre) and team work together to bring out all the fascinating details. It opens with a staggeringly well written scene between Palamon and Arcite in which they dress each other in armour for a duel they will engage in, in which one of them will die. For the first time, almost, James Corrigan and Jamie Wilkes talk with each other. Their youth, their simple honesty, and lovely acting, enable the scene to work on many levels and the effect is beautiful. Love, we understand, has many manifestations.

The theme of non-testosterone driven love is reflected in the subplot; Palamon's jailer's daughter is driven mad by her unrequited love for Palamon. She is healed by the tenderest care and love of her long-time wooer, movingly played by Patrick Knowles. He's a simple man, but a gentle man if ever there were one.

A quirky piece then, but with intriguing glimpses into shifting times.

Fighter: Joe Allen
Schoolmistress: Sally Bankes
Boss: Ashley Campbell
Palamon: James Corrigan
Host / Doctor: Leander Deeny
Pirithous: Chris Jack
The Lady: Lena Kaur
Wooer: Patrick Knowles
The Trickster: Leon Lopez
Jailer: Paul McEwan
Hippolyta: Allison McKenzie
Emilia: Frances McNamee
Hecate: Emma Noakes
Jailer's Daughter: Danusia Samal
Theseus: Gyuri Sarossy
Diana: Eloise Secker
Venus: Kellie Shirley
Arcite: Jamie Wilkes

Director: Blanche McIntyre
Designer: Anna Fleischle
Lighting: Lee Curran
Music: Tim Sutton
Sound Gregory Clarke
Movement: Alistair David
Fights: Kate Waters
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