The Heresy of Love

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green finds a rich revival of Helen Edmondson's Heresy of Love a rich and stimulating evening in the theatre.

Intrigue, danger, passion and politics and comedy and tragedy make a potent brew in Helen Edmondson's 2012 play  The Heresy of Love, revived in a new production directed by John Dove, at Shakespeare's Globe in London, which forms part of the Justice and Mercy programme that marks a departure of artistic director Dominic  Dromgoole.

In a convent in 17th century Mexico Sister Juanna strives to reconcile her love for God with her desire for a life of the mind. Her gift for writing plays and poems is celebrated by the Court, but her success creates alarm within the Church. Persecuted by  a zealous archbishop, Juanna's world threatens to crumble around her as everything she holds dear is jeopardised by dangerous ambitions and illicit desires.

Although initially slow to get going the play builds into a powerful narrative that stands confidently within its time period while still speaking strongly to 21st century interests and sensibilities. The clash between organised religion and personal faith and between liberal and prescriptive theology, as well as the issue of a woman's standing in a patriarchal religious setup echoes down the centuries and is well-conveyed in Edmondson's elegantly constructed work.

Director John Dove draws an excellent central performance from Naomi Frederick as the spirited Sister Juanna, an individual more by hope than pragmatism. She perfectly captures the requisite passion, intelligence, kindness, stubbornness and strength of character and in her final scene defeated and broken is heartrending. There is fine support, too, from Gwyneth Keyworth as a starry-eyed novice sighing for romance  , Paul Whitchurch as the austere, self-flagellating archbishop who fervently opposes female learning, Anthony Howell as a bishop smitten by Juanna and ultimately the biggest component in her downfall, and Rhiannon Oliver as a desperately jealous rival.

In short then this work which draws inspiration from plays of the Spanish Golden Age, provides a rich and stimulating evening in the theatre.


The Heresy of Love

Runs in repertory until Saturday 5 September 2015

Box office: 020 7401 9919   

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