Eleanor of Aquitaine: Mother of the Pride

Catherine Muschamp
Jermyn Street Theatre
(2005)

After a stint in Edinburgh, the prospect of yet another solo show is less tempting than it might normally be. It is therefore paying high praise to 79 year-old actress Eileen Page and her playwright to say that this evening is one of unstinting pleasure.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is a major historical figure although it is likely that many potential audience members know little or nothing about her life. After an hour and a half in the company of Miss Page, many will be tempted to reach for a biography to find out even more than is presented on stage.

We are introduced to this Queen of both England and France (at different times) as she prepares to meet her maker. The old lady is in both a nunnery and some strange hinterland where she has to account for her life to the shades of those whom she has met throughout it.

As a child of 15, Eleanor met Loui, a prince who became the seventh King of France of that name. Their relationship was tempestuous, particularly when she only delivered girl children to a proud king seeking a male heir. Remarkably for the period, when Louis set off on a crusade for Christendom he took his wife along which must make her one of the earliest female long-distance travellers.

The marriage ended abruptly when she met and fell for the 18 year-old Duke of Normandy, later Henry II of England. This King is possibly best known in theatrical circles for his appearance in The Lion in Winter on film (starring Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn) and theatrically as the foil to Becket on more than one occasion - Anouilh and Eliot both went there.

This regal pair were also parents to a pride of children including Richard Coeur de Lion and King John. It says much for the inner strength of the mother that she outlived almost all, eventually reaching the venerable age of 82, practically unheard of at that time.

Catherine Muschamp writes a good history and in suitably poetic language, although she has a tendency to overuse her leonine imagery.

Eileen Page is a remarkable actress who would be memorable for her beautiful voice and incredibly clear enunciation even if she was reading a train timetable. She also demonstrates impressive acting ability that perfectly conveys both the inner strength of a woman who regularly get her way and the pitiful sadness of a mother who loses her children (or cubs).

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Mother of the Pride is an opportunity to see a superb performance that has now been doing the rounds for six years since its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe. It is well worth the trip to Jermyn Street to pay homage to three great ladies: playwright, actress and subject.

Philip Fisher