‘Eternal Love’ (Kings: 18 – 22 March ’14)

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“Derrick Zieba’s sound design and William Lyons’ composition were delightful, filling the air like a rhapsody of gorgeous butterflies.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated

Their forbidden love broke all the rules. Their passion tore their lives apart, ripping through the loose fabric of twelfth century mores. The devotion of Abelard and Heloise continues to inspire the deepest affection in those who have born witness to their story.

Eternal Love (formerly titled In Extremis) is set in medieval Paris in the age of the great Peter Abelard. The French capital is the epicenter of a proto-renaissance. New modes of thinking are challenging the old order. Ecclesiastical certainties are coming under the scrutiny of innovative thinkers like Abelard.

Having quarreled with his old fashioned teacher, William of Champeaux, Abelard establishes a philosophical academy of his own. It’s a runaway success, elevating the trendy young scholar into the most fashionable circles. Every inquiring mind wants to be shaped by him, and few are more engaged than the beautiful Heloise.

When her uncle hires Abelard to provide private tuition, Heloise is brought into the intellectual and sexual orbit of a man with many powerful enemies.

Howard Brenton’s script is a vehicle not only for one of Europe’s most cherished love stories, but also for deeper musings about the interplay of intellectual and physical love. It is a sly and wily creature, coiling around familiar events, unafraid to flex its comic muscles.

However, John Dove’s direction recalls the sad tale of the actor, made famous by a long-running TV improv show, who found himself unable to work without exaggeration. Perhaps this production would have worked in the frenetic intimacy of London’s Globe Theatre in which it was born, but something was badly lost in translation.

The actors were spread across the broader canvas of the Kings like cold butter straight from the fridge. The blocking was as blocky as Duplo and so were several of the performances. A last minute substitution in the cast may not have helped, but at no point was the love, the very birth of romance, in evidence. The violence of Abelard’s fate worse than death was muted, monotonal even.

The set was barely a set. A wishy-washy shadow, a pale imitation of the Globe. Entrances? Check. Musician’s gallery? Check. Some trees? Check. Anything else? Not really. This was a prop-lite production well turned out in medieval clobber but with the feeling of a functional business suite rather than brilliant tailoring.

Euterpe was the only saving grace. Derrick Zieba’s sound design and William Lyons’ composition were delightful, filling the air like a rhapsody of gorgeous butterflies. Together with Rebecca Austen-Brown and Arngeir Hauksson, Lyons found the quick heart of Brenton’s script. Measured, witty, soulful and soul-filled, I just wish the rest of the production could have looked up from the stage and played as well as the gallery.

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 18 March)

Visit Eternal Love‘s homepage here.