Theatre; Reviews

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Byline: Catherine Vonledebur

Eternal Love:The Story of Heloise and Abelard Malvern Festival Theatres ????? HOWARD BRENTON'S marvellous play fleshes out those star-crossed medieval lovers: Heloise and Abelard.

To take this often dimly perceived period - the 12th century - with its enforced religious doctrines and turn these mythical figures into flesh and blood people is something which one can only admire.

All too often historical fact is trivialised in a foolish way which is an insult to one's intelligence. Brenton works on another level altogether. Long before his scandalous love affair with his young student Heloise, (a fine performance from Jo Herbert) herself no slouch when it came to philosophical debate, Abelard (the excellent David Sturzaker ) was already known throughout Europe for his debunking of phoney religious orthodoxy favouring in its place the radical logic found in Aristotle's Ethics and similar tracts.

A famous debate popular with students, concerned the reality of "man", begging the question was "man" a reality or simply a mental abstraction, which leads on in turn to a fine dramatic section in the play, when Abelard attempts to turn the doctrinal belief of God in Three Persons on its head, arguing the reality of three individual beings.

In this play Brenton brings you to the edge of your seat by the strength of the argument which was perceived at the time as dangerous heresy and risked its exponents being burned alive.

When the radical and slightly deluded ascetic, Bernard of Clairvaux, claims to see Christ everywhere, Abelard asks Bernard to describe the colour of Christ's clothing and the shape of his beard, questioning at the same time Bernard's insistence on extremes of poverty and frugality which leads to illness and loss of strength among the community of monks.

Directed by John Dove, for English Touring Theatre, it's all absolutely enthralling. Until March 29.

Richard Edmonds The Mummy Belgrade Theatre, Coventry ? …