Review: Eternal Love, Brighton Theatre Royal

The dance at the end of Eternal Love.
The dance at the end of Eternal Love.
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This production of the legendary love story between Abelard and Heloise (David Sturzaker and Jo Herbert) was exactly what I have come to expect from the English Touring Theatre and the Globe Theatre: plays rooted in history with food for thought, snappy contemporary dialogue, a riveting plot, beautiful costumes and a traditional Shakespearian dance at the end.

Eternal Love boasted strong performances, but the character I felt most drawn to was Sam Crane’s fanatical Bernard of Clairvaux, whose wavering delivery and meek manner, served to cloak his borderline insanity and duplicitous nature.

Meanwhile the haughty and commanding performance from Julius D’Silva as Louis VI dominated the stage whenever he trod the boards.

The set was beautiful with two trees at its centre to call to mind the gardens where the philosopher Abelard would have taught his pupils, while on a platform above the stage live period music accompanies the actors.

Eternal love is based on a true story about Abelard (her teacher) and Heloise (his pupil) in 11th century France, who fall in love, despite the social taboos against their relationship.

She is in her mid teens and he is meant to be 15 to 20 years older than her, which viewed in today’s society is an abuse of his role as her teacher.

The play also pits the fundamentalist Bernard of Clairvaux against the proto Protestant Abelard so could be read today as struggle against the old religion versus the new, the application of Bernard’s faith versus Abelard’s Aristotelian logic.

And yet isn’t their battle at root just a struggle for power and control, as opposed to a quest to get closer to God?

I won’t spoil the story of Heloise and Abelard if you haven’t read it before, but suffice it to say it’s brimming with even more plot twists and high octane drama than you could shake a stick at.

ETERNAL LOVE, written by Howard Brenton (Spooks) will be at Theatre Royal Brighton until Sat 5 April.