It will be interesting to find out how much was put into the collection buckets this opening night. An intriguing experiment invited audiences to pay what they felt the performance was worth. By rights those pails should be too heavy to lift (unless we’re talking bank notes, of course.)
For this is the kind of unforgettable drama you’d expect from a partnership between English Touring Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe.
Eternal Love is Howard Brenton‘s take on the true story of Abelard and his Heloise. The former was one of France’s most respected teachers back in the 12th Century, who questioned the religious ideals of the time and championed thinkers like Aristotle.
He was eventually ex-communicated for his beliefs – and his illicit affair with his young but feisty scholar. Their love story weaves through our hero’s quest to bring a new liberty of thought to Christianity.
Very intense in places, I dare you to resist picking a side and getting drawn into the philosophical debate. This is all down to the stage presence of David Sturzaker (Abelard) and his nemesis Abbot Bernard (played by Sam Crane).
But the real genius of Brenton’s writing is comic interludes that sneak up on you just as things are about to get too heavy – cleverly placed throwaway lines immaculately delivered. Full marks to double act John Cummins and William Mannering, a 12th Century Max and Paddy, who make you almost want to cheer pantomime like every time they drift on stage.
A fast moving storyline, superbly acted by all and supported by an authentic orchestra, shrewdly placed on a balcony on stage to draw the audience further into the action.
Don’t expect to sleep much after this one. You will be left wondering about faith and humanity and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it – but at least you can take comfort from knowing you will have sat through something incredibly special.
Eternal Love is at the Blackpool Grand until 15 March
– Nikki Wilcock