This is Michelle Terry’s first season as artistic director on Bankside. And good luck to her. While she takes on Hamlet, and has programmed other big beasts, it’s notable and reassuring that there is new writing to come later in the summer, and the chance to see this less performed work, penned later in life by Shakespeare working with John Fletcher. Colourful and crowd pleasing, this production is an accessible and entertaining introduction to the piece.
Following the adventures and love rivalry between the titular cousins, Arcite and Palamon, as they battle for marriage to Emilia, is quite the tale, crazily combining courtly manners, ancient gods and plenty of characters who are literally mad for love. Director Barrie Rutter, of Northern Broadsides fame, has only worked at the Globe once before but shows a clear command of the space. There are strong costumes from Jessica Worrall and lots of music from Eliza Carthy. Any incongruous notes go to show how much Rutter wants to reach out and grab the audience’s attention, hence the story is clearly presented, the staging swift and the action exciting.
This is an actors’ production. Rutter makes a focal point of the performances, rather than any kind of concept or argument, and the result is relaxed and enjoyable. Right from the start there’s the stylish Jude Akuwudike as Theseus and Moyo Akandé as Hippoltya to impress, while Ellora Torchia plays their sister Emilia and excels with the plot’s incredulous moments – of which there are many. The play rests with the leading men, and Bryan Dick and Paul Stocker deservedly steal the show. They can both cut a dash as heroic figures making us (almost) believe in their desire to die to for love, while also enjoying their sudden rivalry.
It can be tricky to have fun with Shakespeare – some people get upset if you try. But here the jibes at valour and exaggerated love are so convincing there’s a case that Bard’s efforts with Fletcher have their own knowing irony. There’s still the suspicion that the piece wouldn’t be performed without Shakespeare’s name attached as the concerns and references are too arcane. But the production makes a strong case for the play, undaunted by its oddity and rooting itself in heady emotions that remain recognisable.
Until 30 June 2018