Two fair gourds of equal sweetness



HOW now dainty madwoman? Francesca Mills is the hangman’s daughter. Photo courtesy IMDb.

FRANCESCA MILLS TAKES the soul of this production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works and rolls it between her fingers, thunderously like a god. This performer, who has dwarfism, takes on the whole wooden ‘O’ of Shakespeare’s globe and sets it afire. Performing the hangman’s daughter who loses her sense of reason, she is a sprite and an elf, a vixen and demon, all rolled into one. With a doff of her proverbial cap to tragic Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this exceptionally skilled performer holds the stage, even when she is not in a given scene.

You may not be familiar with Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsmen, a tale centred in the grime and bling of ancient Athens, which was his last work, based on a sketch by Geoffrey Chaucer and something he penned in collaboration with John Fletcher, but the wisdom and rollicking clarity of this production will make you wish you had studied it at school. Not that you would have: peppered with arguably much more explicit bawdry than you may know in Shakespeare, it’s a love quadrangle with gender fluid rules that brings together a bit of tragedy, a lot of demonic Morris dancing and some fine jibes at the miens of society.

In short, this beautifully staged work, replete with costumes that are – to quote a phrase from the work – like a holiday to look at, will sweep you off your lockdown theatre seat and get you dancing with the broom, if needs be. Director Barrie Rutter is clearly unafraid to work with actors in an astonishing variety of physical sizes and this lends his work a texture that is glorious on the eye and the heart, and makes you feel truly alive, with the accompaniment of the raucous jazz-redolent music that fits the tone of Elizabethan revelry.

So, what does a beautiful Elizabethan lesbian named Emilia (Ellora Torchia) do when two fine young kinsmen are on the point of destroying one another to wed her or bed her? It’s a peculiar quandary which kicks dust in the face of the tradition of the duel, and sparks gender debates across this quandrangle of love declared, love in secret and love in mad jest. It’s a complete delight from beginning to end, and Mills will become your new favourite performer, in all the world.

  • The Two Noble Kinsmen is written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Directed by Barrie Rutter, for the Globe Theatre in London, and directed for screen by Ian Russell, it is performed by a cast headed by Moyo Akandé, Jude Akuwudike, Andy Cryer, Sue Devaney, Bryan Dick, Matt Henry, Melissa James, Francesca Mills, Kat Rose-Martin, Paul Stocker, Ellora Torchia, Jon Trenchard and Jos Vantyler, and creative input by Eliza Carthy (music), Jessica Worral (costume and production design), Ewan Wardrop (choreography) and Kevin McCurdy (fight director). It is available on demand for free until May 17 via Shakespeare’s Globe’s youtube channel.

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