In Extremis at the Globe

By Stephen Pollard
May 22, 2007

I couldn't agree more with Sam Marlowe's review of In Extremis, Howard Brenton’s reimagining of the 12th-century historical love story of Abelard and Heloise, which has just been revived at the Globe:

The fervent spiritual and fleshly connection of Oliver Boot and Sally Bretton as the lovers is wildly, irresistibly sexy. But no less involving is their clash with Bernard of Clairvaux (Jack Laskey), the Cistercian abbot who sees their espousal of the theories of Aristotle and Plato as highly dangerous. A thrilling debate ensues, in which fundamentalism is pitched against rationality and the true meanings of love and faith are reconsidered.

Dove’s production and Brenton’s writing swing between the shamelessly broad and the intricate, and anywhere else they might at times look crude. On a warm night at the Globe, under an open sky, the treatment seems perfectly apt: cheeky, robust, yet tough-minded too.

Nor is Brenton’s argument predictably stacked. The inflexible belief system of Laskey’s cadaverous Bernard, so full of zeal that he vomits it up, choking on the tongues he practically talks in, allows for a sense of mystery and wonderment that is emphatically human. Yet when, according to Christian doctrine, God is Love, the urgent, ardent couplings of Abelard and Heloise begin to assume an elevating, almost devotional quality.

...[O]verall the whole balances rigour and entertainment with aplomb, resulting in a genuinely challenging piece of popular theatre.

We went on Saturday. I'd not been to the Globe before, having rather ignorantly dismissed it as a tourist attraction, I couldn't have been more wrong. It's plenty more alive than a host of West End or subsidised places.


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