Like buses, you can wait for ages for a production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, considered to be Shakespeare's last collaborative play (jointly written with the younger John Fletcher, though it wasn't included in the First Folio), to come along, and then two arrive in major theatres within the space of a couple of years. In 2016 the RSC revived it at the Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations of that intimate theatre space, since it was also staged in its opening season in 1986. Now, as part of Michelle Terry's debut season as artistic director at Shakespeare's Globe, it is now revived again in a new production in this larger but always embracing outdoor space.
The Globe is, of course, partly a scholarly place - and Terry's inclusion of this sprightly but comparatively rarely seen play is a statement of her intentions to give us the entire Shakespearean experience, not just the popular favourites that she's opened her tenure with, Hamlet and As You Like It. As a programme note to this production puts it, "The play's stage history is short. While The Tempest is an overcrowded critical site, Shakespeare's real last play remains largely unexplored. It offers a landscape of question marks as hard to describe as Prospero's island."
There's certainly a sometimes manic eccentricity but also vivid exuberance to the Globe's fast, funny production. Barrie Rutter - long-time former leader of Northern Broadsides - has found a new artistic home at the Globe, and in his first freelance directorial project in some 26 years, proves to be an ideal choice for making this convoluted play about two cousins who fall in love with the same woman accessible.
As vividly costumed by Jessica Worrall, it is a constant treat to look at; the stage itself is only sparsely dressed, with moss encrusting the pillars and spreading to the forestage. Instead, the actors own the stage - and Rutter's superb, boisterous company includes a star-making turn from the irrepressible Francesca Mills as the exuberant jailer's daughter, a hilarious short cameo from Jos Vantyler as a leaf-encrusted schoolmaster, and Matt Henry, the Olivier winning star of Kinky Boots, in a change of pace and place as Pirithous.
Photo courtesy Nobby Clark