Dominic Dromgoole's inaugural season at Shakespeare's Globe ended on a high with John Dove's enjoyable production of In Ertremis, a new play by Howard Brenton about two scandalous lovers in 12thcentury France. A middle-aged priest, aged 41, seduces his student, a 17-year-old girl, who becomes pregnant. He was prepared to many her, but she didn't want to marry him, thinking scholarship and marriage were incompatible and preferring to be his mistress.
Pierre Abelard (1079-1142), the greatest scholar in France and the founder of the University of Paris, believed that God had given man a mind so that through reason he could come to gain a greater knowledge of God. Abelard applied Aristotelean logic to the Bible and argued that reason would strengthen rather than weaken belief. Bernard of Clairvaux, his relentless prosecutor, thought.that logic and liberty of thought would destroy Christian faith.
Abelard was notorious for his unbridled lust. Although he secretly married Heloise, this did not appease the wrath of her uncle and guardian, who ordered thugs to castrate Abelard. Their famous love letters were written after they were separated, when he had become an abbot and she an abbess. Heloise, far more radical than her lover, never felt any remorse, arguing that a woman had as much right to physical fulfilment as she had to spiritual fulfilment. He, on the other hand, accepted his castration as a just punishment.
The leading roles were played by three charismatic actors. Oliver Boot was an arrogant and articulate Abelard; Sally Bretton's Heloise was his intellectual equal. Jack Laskey's ascetic, gaunt and sickly Bernard acted as a formidable adversary, and was unshakeable in his faith. There was also a fine performance by Sheila Reid as an abbess, whose unexpectedly blunt language no doubt surprised some audiences.
Charles-Francois Gounod's Faust, premiered in 1859, was once the most popular opera in the world. David McVicar's diverting production for the Royal Opera House updated the story and set it in Paris during the Second Empire. On one side of the stage was a theatre; on the other was a church. Mephistopheles (Orlin Anastassov), not as malign as you might expect, was portrayed as a flamboyant showman who travelled with a theatrical trunk and stagemanaged everything, even the stars at night. The high spot was Walpurgis night, when Mephistopheles dressed in full drag and presided over a raucous and extremely vulgar corps de ballet a reminder that the Paris Opera House was once known as "the great brothel".
Gounod's Faust is one of those rare occasions when the devil actually doesn't have all the best tunes. Piotr Beczala as Faust and Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite were in excellent voice and Russell Braun made a huge impression as Valentin.
A young Jewish New York novelist travels to the Ukraine to a village nobody has heard of, searching for the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Holocaust. Jonathan Safran Foer's bestselling novel, Everything is Illuminated, didn't work on film and equally it didn't work on stage in Simon Block's adaptation at the Hampstead Theatre. Nevertheless the story's horrific climax, when terrible decisions were relived, could not fail to be distressing. Patrick Kennedy modelled his performance on the young Woody Allen.
Terror and war may well be the ultimate theatre, but why on earth was Gaddafi : A Living Myth opening English National Opera's autumn season when it wasn't even an opera? The singers shouted over Asian Dub Foundation's music. Shan Khan's libretto was a crude anti-American tract. The dialogue was rap. "This is our land," said a Libyan. "You can keep the sand," said an American. There were predictable caricatures of Reagan and Blair. At the end of the day it was all about oil.
David Freeman's production relied on graphics, newsreel and ripped paper backcloths rather than the text and the cast. Ramon Tilcaram was a convincing Gaddafi lookalike, but it was impossible to take his female bodyguard seriously she was too unintentionally comic.