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Play by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Directed by Tim Carroll.
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Palamon and Arcite, cousins in the court of Thebes, vow that their friendship and loyalty to one another will last until death. When King Theseus of Athens leads his army against Thebes, the two friends are taken to Athens as prisoners of war. Here, from their prison window, they catch sight of the beautiful Princess Emilia and fall in love with her. Their friendship turns to rivalry.
The Two Noble Kinsmen is a neglected masterpiece of the Jacobean stage, combining the lucidity and theatrical powers of Fletcher with perhaps the last words Shakespeare ever wrote for the theatre. With a tale drawn from the relationship between Venus and Mars, Shakespeare the author of Venus and Adonis returns to themes explored much earlier in his career to create a rich drama of obsessive love.
O, you heavenly charmers,
What things you make of us! For what we lack
We laugh, for what we have, are sorry; still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let's go off
And bear us like the time.
SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE Theatre Previewed 29 July, Opened 4 August 2000, Closed 23 September 2000
Extracts from the reviews:
"...This collaboration between Shakespeare, at the end of his career, and his up-and-coming colleague John Fletcher is still cobwebbed with neglect. Knocking the dust off it now is Tim Carroll, whose shrewd, strongly directed revival makes a persuasive case for an oddly compelling play whose virtues have been overlooked because of the distractions of the dual authorship question. Based on Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, the piece dramatises the conflicting claims of love and friendship, sex and duty through the experiences of Palamon and Arcite. Devoted friends until, in captivity in Athens, each falls in love with the beautiful Emilia, the sister-in-law of Duke Theseus, they are then promptly transformed into deadly foes. Portraying a world where love amounts to little more than unreciprocated infatuation resulting in madness and death, the play subjects its characters to the balefully nonsensical whims of chance... Carroll handles the tricky tonal balance of the ceremonial, the sardonic and the impassioned with laudable skill... You may not come away feeling that you've seen a lost masterpiece, but it certainly convinces you that The Two Noble Kinsmen deserves to be re-examined on our stages at least as often as that early Shakespearean play about love and friendship, The Two Gentlemen of Verona." The Independent
"...The Globe deserves applause for giving an airing to his virtually forgotten, very late collaboration with John Fletcher (last staged by the RSC in 1986). Probably drafted in 1614, after The Tempest, this is a medieval romance that draws on Ancient Greek legend. Arcite and Palamon (admirably played here by Will Keen and Jasper Britton) are two Theban knights taken prisoner by Theseus, King of Athens. They are dear friends, but while sharing a cell they glimpse a fair maiden called Emilia. Both fall for her, and their love for each other bites the dust... Both the play and Tim Carroll's production are curate's eggs - good in parts. Shakespeare and Fletcher's storylining includes inconsistencies and loose ends... Set-designer Roger Butlin also lumbers the cast with a gigantic horse's skull that nods on a metal crane. This might be a menacing death's head, but the way that it keeps blocking our view of the players is plain asinine. However, Keen and Britton save the day. They are a delightful comic duo. Keen's clean-shaven, gaunt Arcite is stoical and dryly gloomy. In contrast, Britton's unkempt, chubbier Palamon flies into tantrums. Both slip deftly between satire and true sorrow..." The Daily Telegraph
"...Shakespeare's involvement was long disputed but is now accepted by all but a few diehards. The play's uncertain parentage is one reason for the centuries of neglect; another, its fascination with the chivalric themes of friendship, bravery and courtly love. What this new production confirms is that quality has nothing to do with it: there is as much to marvel, guffaw and despair at as in many of Shakespeare's undisputed and undiluted works... Carroll deftly brings out the humour... Is the play a comedy or a tragedy? With nothing to choose between the two cousins, both must live if there is to be a happy ending, and this possibility remains until almost the last moment. Theseus might use his power to keep the pair apart, or Palamon might come to his senses and fall for the entrancing (if bonkers) Jailer's Daughter rather than the insipid Emelia. In the end, with one of the kinsmen bracing himself for execution, a shocking accident places the play outside the usual dramatic categories and makes a nonsense of the belief that men are responsible for their own fates. There is a death but, as Carroll notes in the programme, 'none of the consolations of tragedy'. It is hard to imagine a Shakespearean cliffhanger - let alone one with a twist in the tail - and we should count ourselves lucky that this play is once more seeing the light of day." The Guardian
"We like to think that Shakespeare's last play was The Tempest... but Shakespeare afterwards worked on two other plays, and perhaps his truly last words come at the end of The Two Noble Kinsmen, the not very good piece he wrote with John Fletcher... Chances to see the play staged have come but rarely, so Mark Rylance's decision to give it a go is welcome indeed. Tim Carroll is the Master of Play, as the director is called at this venue, and he recognises that at least one of the authors wanted to point out the absurdity of the kinsmen's desperate love. One minute they are expressing undying friendship; but in the next, having glimpsed the fair Emilia through their prison window, each swears to kill the other for daring to love her... Roger Butlin (Master of Design) dresses nobles pleasingly in cream, commoners in shades of brown. And at the centre of the stage he places the skull of a colossal horse on a wooden pylon, to dip and rotate in the cleverest way. The play is no great shakes, and no great Shakespeare, but Carroll and his cast make it entertaining - even modern, when the cousins help to arm each other for their combat, and one asks: "How do I look?"" The Times