posted/updated: 03 Oct 2011 -
The Two Noble Kinsmen
Shakespeare & Fletcher
society/company: Cambridge School of Visual & Performing Arts
performance date: 07 Jun 2011
venue: The Junction 2, Cambridge
reviewer/s: Lucy Jones (Independent review)
Performances of THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN are still as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth, though in recent years it has been increasingly popular with drama schools. This revival by an enthusiastic cast of international students – quite probably the play’s first ever Cambridge airing – was not the most profound I’ve seen, but it was certainly the most enjoyable.
I had gone intending to listen for the differing authorial voices, but with five minutes has ceased caring whether this scene or that soliloquy were by Shakespeare, Fletcher, both or neither, such was the exuberance and panache of Jean Stewart’s lively and beautiful production.
It is a Jacobean retelling of Chaucer’s version of the ancient Greek tale of Palamon and Arcite, two devoted cousins who become implabable rivals for the hand of Duke Theseus’ sister Emilia.
Interwoven is a subplot concerning a jailer’s daughter, driven mad (Ophelia-like) by her love for Palamon. Georgina Dugdale gave a virtuoso performance in this touching role; with the fragility of a Puccini heroine and exemplary vocal and movement skills, she all but stole the show.
Whether she or the audience fully understood the filthy significance of the double-entendres that pepper her ramblings – especially after a Doctor (Lindi Lewis – very amusing) has prescribed a curiously modern for of sexual therapy – I rather doubt.
Rebecca Cuthertson’s edition of the text played up the sunniness and funniness, playing down the echoes of earlier Shakespeare plays, and cutting entirely the sexually ambiguous scene where the rival cousins, preparing to fight each other, lovingly arm one another first.
The eighteenth century setting, and the casting of girls as the noble kinsmen, would have made this difficult to play. Generally, though, the former worked remarkably well, for that was an era when male pride taken to its extremes counted for something.
Similarly, the gender-blind casting emphasised the absurdity of the protagonists’ obsession. Caroline Maroney and Mealangell Dolma gave nicely contrasting characterisations, though Ms Dolman’s strutting, self-satisfied Arcite was only a thigh slap away from Principal Boy!
The most affecting performance, though, was not the busiest nor the noisiest: as Emilia, object of the cousins’ rivalry and the only character to see through and beyond the absurdity of it all, Nadia Babke displayed an astonishing serenity and depth of feeling, emerging as the still point at the storm’s centre.
On the minus side, there was too much overacting by supporting characters, and one final speech was delivered totally unintelligibly. (Fortunately some rather clever puppetry saved the
Music and sound effects were too loud for the intimate venue, and the final jig was mistimed, overwhelming and negating Theseus’ world-weary final lines.