Allison McKenzie as Hippolyta, Chris Jack as Pirithous, Gyuri Sarossy as Theseus and Frances McNamee as Emilia. Pictures: Donald Cooper. 

The Two Noble Kinsmen

The Royal Shakespeare Company

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon


IN A rarely performed play penned by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Blanche McIntyre’s production of The Two Noble Kinsmen shows the unbreakable relationship between two cousins thwarted by the love for a princess.

With a setting that stays true to the ancient Greek backdrop which Shakespeare and Fletcher intended, McIntyre breathes new life into the tragi-comedy to make a memorable production with flares of modernity.

Arcite and Palamon are Theban soldiers and have an inseparable relationship. They are still close when they are captured by Theseus, king of Athens. When they lay eyes on Theseus’ sister in law, Emilia, they both instantly fall in love with her.

This is the catalyst that begins the downfall of their unbreakable kindred. The mutual lust for Emilia means that only one may have her and will not think twice about fighting to the death for her.

Of course, some audience members would have already been introdHippolytauced to Theseus and Hippolyta and may remember the regal characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This production sees the king and queen in a new light. The characters have a strong authority that shows their reign over Athens with a regal charm.

Allison McKenzie’s Hippolyta is a force to be reckoned with, topped off with a smooth Scottish drawl. She is equal to her husband and is always the voice of reason, speaking against power hungry Theseus. Her pairing with Gyuri Sarossy’s Theseus is a beautiful match, as they add a terrific ruling layer over a manic kingdom and dysfunctional household.

The chainsaw of office is perhaps a hint that Hippolyta is not one to be trifled with . . .

McIntyre’s production oozes sexuality. The roaring lust from each cousin’s infatuation for Emilia is brilliantly played up by Jamie Wilkes as Arcite and James Corrigan as Palamon. Both make for a funny double act in a scene where they argue over ‘who saw her first’ and their rivalry never dies down, even when Palamon is chained in shackles.

Their on-stage relationship has a wonderful charm, played beautifully by the outstanding actors. In Emilia herself, when it comes to choosing who to take as a husband out of the two, she has a hard time comparing their manly qualities. The concept of human jealousy definitely speaks to the modern audience and pushes the boundaries of love with the idea of sacrificing a lifelong family bond, for mere personal gain.

Anna Fleischile’s design is interesting and unlocks the imagination. Greek architectural connotations are seen within the predominately open plan stage, which the company are left to fill quite splendidly. The grey stone and high metal walls are a versatile addition to the setting. They are used within jail scenes, parties at court and outdoor spying - perfect for dramatic irony.

The simple, yet highly effective set does not look out of place amongst the ever changing scenes and adds to the playful plot. Fleischile’s costume design was also particularly interesting. We saw a highly stylised dress, with leather materials of gold and deep brown. It is definitely not authentic to the apparent setting, but did not look entirely out of place either. It worked effortlessly. It was as if the characters were a separate entity altogether, regardless of time and place. The Jailer, played by the impressive Paul McEwan, for example, was clothed in a smart modern suit, much like a business man. However, those at court and indeed the warriors blended into a delectable world of luxury glitter and leather. Perhaps these majestic materials were but a reflection of how frail the loss of trinkets and indulgence can be.

It is a shame that The Two Noble Kinsmen is a lesser performed Jailer's daughterplay of the Elizabethan era. McIntyre gives the strong feeling that in true Shakespearean style, there is always the presiding question that regards the world around us, ultimately, to do what is right for the ones we love with the audience seeing the consequences of personal ambition and the dangers of lust.

Shakespeare and Fletcher also highlight the importance of womanhood within the play that holds strong themes of chivalry. The playwrights pay respect to women consumed by love, particularly within the character of the Jailer’s Daughter, played by Danusia Samal. She is driven mad by the love that goes unrequited for Palamon and takes a wonderful command of the stage with her lamentations and longing for love, until she is taken by insanity.

 Danusia Samal as the Jailer’s Daughter.

Frances McNamee’s Emilia is also a treat. With a forever strong presence, Emilia does not let the ruling of her brother in law steal away her womanly independence. McNamee is fantastic on stage and encapsulates the conflicted woman with great ease.

McIntyre lays out an entertaining production, filled with fun and light. She allows the audience to enjoy the fun and cheekiness of Arcite and Palamon, and the entertainment of court. Just when we forget that this is indeed a tragi-comedy, McIntyre presents the heart-wrenching moments at the perfect time. With well-rounded characters and an understandable plot, She shows us the pressures and worldly matters of all-consuming love. To 07-02-17.

Elizabeth Halpin



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