THE final chapter in the award-winning 'Conquerors Trilogy’ lived up to every ounce of excitement and anticipation.

Having toured the recently reopened Abbey Ruins earlier this year, I developed a new-found appreciation for Reading's unique history.

As the burial site of Henry I, our town was clearly viewed as an important location in Medieval times. After being invited to see the final performance at Reading Minster on Saturday evening, that appreciation went up another notch.

Reading Between the Lines' (RBL) ambitious production of Henry II is an epic tussle between the church and the state, but is also a touching tale about forbidden love and Henry's bid for supremacy.

A tough act to follow, Henry II followed Matilda the Empress and Henry I, which both attracted huge praise from audiences and critics alike.

It was evident that the cast were somewhat emotional about the closing night and in many ways I would like to think they gave that little bit extra to their delivery.

They had me entertained from a very early stage, performing musical interludes in the minutes leading up to the start of the show.

Although there is an impetus on Henry and his wife - Elanor of Aquitaine - the supporting characters contribute invaluably and the performance elevates when their storylines become interlinked.

Running parallel to Henry's thirst for power is the story of Bartholomew of Reading. An aspiring troubadour, he is selected to perform for Henry and Elanor after stealing a song from a rival, who soon becomes a love interest.

There romance blossoms, but is thwarted when her true identity is revealed as none other than Elanor's daughter - and the granddaughter of Empress Matilda.

Tempers begin to fray and Matilda enters at the climax of the production, as Henry questions his wife's loyalty.

Other supporting characters provided the comic relief needed in such a tense setting. Welsh monk Gerald - an apprentice to Thomas Becket - interjected with humourous spells, before he is put in his place by a professional flatulists...yes, you read that correctly.

The overriding message of the performance seemed to be one of power versus happiness - and that it was impossible to have both.

Henry loses the love of his life, the respect of his children and the long-running friendship of Becket, while others - such as Bart - would throw away all they had for true love.

Bart's stirring song in the closing stages renders even Henry an emotional wreck and - as the monarch looks back on the mistakes of his past - he realises that his bid to control Europe came at a huge price.

As well as attracting national attention and glowing reviews, this production has raised funds for Launchpad Reading, First Days Children’s Charity and Reading Minster.

RBL's next production will be A Christmas Carol at South Street Arts Centre from December 10-30.

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