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Reverence: a tale of Abelard and Heloise at Southwark Playhouse

Marion Marples

Southwark Playhouse returns strikingly to theatrical life in Southwark in the atmospheric vaults beneath London Bridge Station.

The first production, Reverence by Gillian Clarke, gives plenty of scope for the Goat and Monkey team of Joel Scott and Sally Wilson to show off the potential of the new space by creating the dim and damp air of a medieval monastery.

Hypocrisy and cruelty however are not far from the surface and any pious thoughts of God or beauty soon disappear as the audience, now clad in black monastic cloaks, move from one cleverly lit space to another to witness yet more ways in which the characters can be humiliated.

The story of the love between the clever and handsome scholar Abelard (Pieter Lawman) and his young and sexy star pupil Heloise (Leandra Ashton) has scandalised and intrigued in turn over the centuries. This version concentrates on the conflict between Abelard's need for the approval of the church and the disapproval of the whole situation by Heloise's uncle, Canon Fulbert (Patrick Driver).

The site-specific promenade production makes an emotional impact as the audience is drawn into the action, whereas Howard Brenton's recent In Extremis at Shakespeare's Globe dealt more with the theological arguments.

The final tableau of Heloise banished to a nunnery and Abelard weeping, with symbolic pink poppies growing, is almost an art installation.

The new venue seats 150 and tickets are on sale with an airline-style booking policy: the sooner you book, the cheaper the price.

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