FOR the briefest of moments, as Alfric the master builder of the Abbey pointed up to the steeple and proclaimed it “the tallest in the world”, in the same breath as he dubbed the town a soon to be global centre, it seemed Matilda the Empress might fall into the oldest of Reading traps.

Talk to someone from Reading, and they might tell you it is not just a place where you change trains, it has a football club, Oscar Wilde’s former prison and Ricky Gervais. It is the kind of self-explanation and congratulation Londoners rarely have to make, and it is an inherently defeating one.

Yet much like Artangel’s Inside exhibition and Henry 1 of England, Reading Between the Lines’ latest production quickly finds its feet, telling a story of such intrigue and with such unabashed confidence it is impossible not to get swept along, to be truly proud of the town’s regal heritage as the production’s quality takes over.

The play begins with Alfric attempting to woe Emma the Abbey’s laundress. He has returned to Reading after a building tour of the country, deciding to root himself in the growing town and with his charming soon-to-be-partner. While their story is a subplot to the monarchical madness that will take over, it forms the human centre to the story while grounding us in the town.

And then enters Matilda. Fresh back from the continent where she has ruled as Holy Roman Empress for 11 years, she finds herself the only legitimate heir amongst at least 21 half-siblings following the death of her brother. Henry I commands the betrothal of Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou, a lecherous 15 year-old who may be able to help England produce a king.

While Jak Ford-Lane’s portrayal of Geoffrey is quite superbly heinous, Dani McCallum’s Matilda is glorious. She is at once powerful and vulnerable, snowed under by an enormous weight of expectation and ferocious in the face of contempt.

She is more than ably supported by an ensemble of seasoned TV and theatre actors, with Inspector Morse’s Michael Fenner delivering a haughty Henry and notable bit part. Elizabeth Crarer as Emma, Edward M. Corrie as Alfric and Robert and Paul Brendan as Brian are also more than worthy of mention.

As with all good royal tales, best made plans soon go to waste and Matilda’s grip on the throne begins to loosen. When it does the threads of the play come together for a spectacular conclusion, replete with a brutal, crowd buffeting battle through the traverse seating and slow motion escape scene that fills every inch of St James' Church with sound and light.

In no uncertain terms Reading Between the Lines has once again produced something brilliant, a stand-out piece of theatre and riveting historical document. Go and see it.

Click here for tickets.