Tag Archives: John Fletcher

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Grateful as I am for the various shows put online during lockdown, this one made me sad! Of course, this was never the intention behind Barrie Rutter’s fine production, but it only serves the truth that filmed versions highlight how much better live theatre is and why we miss it so much.

Having seen the show ‘for real’ and being happy to watch it again indicates the strength of Rutter’s work. This is far from Shakespeare’s finest play: written with John Fletcher, the love-at-first-sight romance seems ludicrous, the characters schematic and the themes of honour silly. If it weren’t for beautiful poetic moments (and the fact he isn’t guiltless of all three problems elsewhere) you’d question whether Will had anything to do it.

There is still a grandeur behind Moyo Akandé and Jude Akuwudike, who play Hippolyta and Theseus, showing us courtly concerns with a touch of humanity. And Ellora Torchia does well as the princess who has to choose between the titular heroes – one of whom will die – showing an appropriate incredulity as well as sensitivity. Staying centre stage when the final fight goes on, this “maiden-hearted” bride-to-be proves fascinating. The kinsmen, played by Paul Stocker and Bryan Dick, are great – suitably dashing but also funny – with a similar knowing air behind the performances. But, on film, none of this talent is quite enough to make it all engaging.

The camera shows up all the text’s troubles. Stripped bare, without the atmosphere of the theatre, the play drags and all the work done to inject energy or touches of cynicism is lost. The excellent treatment of “country pastimes”, including a fantastic dance, sounded much better live and were full of details lost in the filming. One criticism stands: the unrequited love of the jailer’s daughter (Francesca Mills), which literally drives her mad, is played too much for laughs. And on a screen this poor version of Ophelia feels even colder and crueller.

The biggest problem is that, with the camera dictating what we see, a sense of momentum doesn’t come across. With characters “beyond love and beyond reason”, it’s necessary to drive the action along, which Rutter did with distractions including music and musicians. It made for an effective night out. Nobody wants our theatres open again more than those who work in them, and this show reminds us how much better it is to see plays where they belong.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until 17 May 2020 on globeplayer.tv

To support, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” at Shakespeare’s Globe

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


“Double Falsehood” at the Union Theatre

The Union Theatre in Southwark gives us the opportunity to see a ‘lost’ play by Shakespeare. Double Falsehood has been declared by the Arden Shakespeare to be a late collaboration with John Fletcher, and director Phil Willmott’s fascinating production provides us with the opportunity to decide if they are right.

The debate over authorship rages: the play has plenty of Shakespearean cross-dressing and a villain that seems familiar. However, the poetry is weak and there is a distinct lack of humour. But what does make the evening exciting is the chance to watch a ‘Shakespeare’ without knowing the plot! For that reason I’ll avoid any spoilers so you can see for yourself how gripping the story really is.

As Willmott has stated, academic speculation surrounding the text is less interesting than whether or not Double Falsehood works as theatre. He presents the play clearly and embraces some melodramatic vignettes that are compelling. Deciding to set the play near a monastery has some hairy moments – it can feel a little Carry on Cloisters at times, but the denouement feels all the more miraculous for its religious connotations.

There is a super cast to watch. Richard Franklin is suitably dignified as the Duke Angelo. His diabolical son Henrique is played by Adam Redmore with appropriate mania. Henrique’s victims are many (there’s more than a double falsehood going on here) and include the convincingly heroic Julio (Gabriel Vick) and courageous Leonora (Emily Plumtree).

The main victim is Violante (the clue is in her name). Jessie Lilley makes a professional debut to be proud of but the role itself poses problems for a modern audience. We are more or less comfortable with the outmoded beliefs of Shakespeare’s time, but Violante’s decisions take us too far. She certainly isn’t the kind of woman Shakespeare usually harps on about.

But join the debate – at the Union Theatre and online (the play’s website has a guestbook for your opinions). With the RSC preparing its version of the text (to be staged as Cardenio in April) the talk isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Until 12 February 2011

Photo by Scott Rylander

Written 24 January 2011 for The London Magazine