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Two Noble Kinsmen review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘joie de vivre’

The cast of Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare's Globe, London. Photo: Nobby Clark

May Day, May Day! Barrie Rutter’s production of The Two Noble Kinsmen opens at Shakespeare’s Globe just after the second bank holiday of the month, but it’s the traditional opening of spring that this colourful, creative and uplifting show celebrates.

For his first freelance venture following his departure from Northern Broadsides, Rutter has located Shakespeare and Fletcher’s collaboration in Merrie England. Only here’s the twist. There’s nothing quaint or nostalgic about this return to the olde worlde.

Instead of picturesque peasants dutifully tilling the green and pleasant land, Rutter’s Arcadia is a paganistic haven of folk customs, from the Green Man to May Day dances with far more oomph than a genteel skip around a garlanded pole.

The normally convoluted text of the play has been judiciously edited, stripping it back to emphasise its major plot points. Basically: two friends fall for the same woman, and decide to resolve the situation with a duel, only for fate to intervene and decide which man is left to marry. Crucially, this makes the story far easier to follow.

Rather than bog it down with drawn-out dialogue scenes, the action is intercut with music, songs and dances, that are given the same amount of energy – if not more – as the habitual end-of-show Globe jig normally is. Matt Henry, playing Pirithous, provides the standout vocals of the night, notes send soaring through the twilit space in the seemingly casual manner only musical theatre stars can achieve.

Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Photo: Nobby Clark

The music – foot-stomping rural songs and melancholy folksy numbers led by music director Andy Moore and using compositions by Eliza Carthy – allows the production to cleverly circumnavigate the problem of ending on tragedy, and to move seamlessly from this to the big, fun-filled ending the show as a whole deserves.

As the fought-over Emilia, Ellora Torchia is pragmatic about the absurdities of the situation, but sweetly wooed nonetheless. Moyo Akande, meanwhile, is the absolute picture of stately queenliness as Hippolyta.

Both stand out for the naturalism and clarity of their delivery, as does Francesca Mills who consistently steals the show as the unnamed Jailer’s Daughter. Mills emphasises the sexual passion behind the lovesick yearnings, making the character a more modern, and believable, Shakespearean female.

Patches of greenery dapple the Globe stage, looking organic enough to tie in nicely with the real moss currently adorning the theatre’s thatched roof. Against this understated stage design, Jessica Worrall’s lush, slightly steam punk, costuming shines. Full skirts are slit to the thigh to reveal stout boots, sensible trousers or, in the case of Hippolyta, bright red leggings. The Morris dancers shun sensible whites for mad, shaggy coats made of rainbow ribbons.

It’s a little gem of a production, one that contains that genuine charm of storytelling in an outdoor setting. Watching it really does feel like a worker’s holiday.

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Springtime joie de vivre vibrates through Barrie Rutter’s staging of Shakespeare and Fletcher's play