Writer: Howard Brenton
Director: John Dove
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
When you think of Shakespeare’s Globe and a classic love story you instantly think of Romeo &Juliet, but in Eternal Love (first performed at The Globe under its previous title In Extremis). A love affair between a 12th Century scholar and his pupil seems a less likely subject for a drama but Howard Brenton’s sizzling account this true-life love story proves gripping.
12th century France is a dangerous melting pot of religious fervour. A new breed of secular scholars set to clash with the established church. A fierce theological debate simmers just below the surface and threatens to consume all.
Fanning the flames of this turbulent debate is the controversial love between modernist scholar Abelard and his young pupil Heloise. Not content with breaking one taboo, the pair re-write the whole rulebook. Pupil/teacher relationships, defying church, under age relationships, pre-marital sex – it’s easy to see why the outrage surfaced, but the themes also make this 12th century morality debate hugely relevant to modern audiences.
Dig deeper than the surface love at first sight story though and there’s a much more complex tale unravelling here, Heloise is far from the corrupted innocent – hers is intellect more than a match for Abelard.
Brenton’s script and John Dove’s energetic production though never judges or take sides. The ethics, beliefs and ultimate consequences played with equality. It helps that the show is infused with a hefty dose of humour, to counterbalance the theological debate, though the comedy careful comes from the situation rather than mocking any character individually.
There’s strong chemistry between David Sturzaker and Jo Herbert as Heloise. Their unconventional, but all encompassing, love is sensitively but convincingly portrayed. It’s a partnership in both love and intellect that is the emotional heart of the piece and handled perfectly.
There’s also an impressive performance from Sam Crane as the fanatical Bernard of Clairvaux. A gaunt, foot licking, manipulator, Crane captures a frailty that belies the inner determination he holds. It’s a rôle that could easily be turned into a villain but Crane’s portrayal gives a clear understanding of a man who is driven by his sense of what is correct.
The piece does somewhat lose some of its spark towards the end, once the devoted couple are separated and the traditional Globe jig ending, although well done and fun, does seem somewhat innocuous with the rest of the piece.
Overall though Brenton’s piece gives much food for thought and in this revival by English Touring Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe captivates with its energy and commitment.
Runs until 8 February and then tours
Photo Robert Day