Shakespeare's Globe and ETT at the Arts Theatre Cambridge
Howard Brenton's 2006 In Extremis – a dazzlingly entertaining blend of poetry, dialectic, sex and laughs, is on the road this Spring, re-badged as Eternal Love, and touring as another joint venture between English Touring Theatre and Shakespeare's Globe.
The love in question is the legendary affair between Peter Abelard, theologian and composer, and Eloise d'Argenteuil, a rare twelfth century example of an educated young woman.
The original Globe production is faithfully invoked for this touring, proscenium version. As Brenton pointed out in conversation before the show, they are playing by Globe rules. So minimum lighting effects, a back wall with a ghost of Notre Dame just discernible and musicians' gallery, central curtained entrance with a doorway either side. And, in John Dove's production, that fluid Shakespearean scene segue that ensures a dynamic pace.
The energetic young company canter through the familiar tale of “France's favourite lovers”, with seduction hard on the heels of the first encounter, the altar as marriage bed leading straight to the farmers' gelding, and the tragic separation telescoped in the conclusion.
Jo Herbert is a wonderfully engaging Eloise, with her powder blue dress and her indomitable spirit – like Brenton's Anne Boleyn, she is a thoroughly modern young lady. David Sturzaker is her Abelard, an earnest philosopher, but a very human lover, too. Their passion over a copy of St Jerome is very touching.
Sam Crane is a credibly simple fanatic as Bernard, but not gaunt, ascetic or complex enough in his later, political life.
A fine supporting cast, including many familiar figures from the Globe company: William Mannering and John Cummins as a great comedy duo, Edward Peel as a down-to-earth Fulbert, broken by his niece's betrayal, and Julius D'Silva as a suave, substantial Louis VI.
Some superb costumes – the bishops' sumptuous robes – and William Lyons' brilliantly evocative music – those eloquent little bells – for the wedding night, say, or the medieval jig to finish, with a touch of magic the Globe could never emulate, twinkling coloured lights adorning the fingers of the players as they take their bows.
A fascinating play of ideas, books, and human frailty, Eternal Love is on the road nationwide until April.
Photograph of the Globe's 2007 production by Stephen Vaughan