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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!




The Heresy of Love


Gwyneth Keyworth (Angelica), Tamaryn Payne (Supernumary), Naomi Frederick (Sor Juana), Gabrielle Lloyd (Madre Marguerita), Susan Porrett (Brigida) in John Dove's production of The Heresy of Love by Helen Edmundson

Photo by Marc Brenner


by Helen Edmundson

Director John Dove

Designed by Michael Taylor

Composed by William Lyons


Shakespeare’s Globe


31 July – 5 September 2015

We shouldn’t be surprised that a Mexican nun, Sor Juana de la Cruz, is the hot topic in Helen Edmundson’s critically acclaimed play, ‘The Heresy of Love’, more that her work has taken so long to reach our consciousness. Look back to the twelfth century and you find composer Hildegard of Bingen, today, Art Historian Sister Wendy Beckett. What the three have in common, apart from convent life and four centuries between them, is a fundamental belief in the Arts as a gift from God, freely given, to see life differently.

It is timely, from its first premiere in Stratford in 2012, that ‘The Heresy of Love’ enjoys a revival, under the proficient direction of John Dove, at Shakespeare’s Globe. Sor Juana, 17th century playwright/poet is renowned for her prodigious intellect and inspiration as the ‘tenth muse.’ The inquisitorial Archbishop plans to rein in New Spain, Mexico, in the wake of Spain’s colonial programme of ‘conquest and conversion.’

Edmondson is an ensemble writer, skills honed from her work with Shared Experience, and above all ‘The Heresy of Love’ is character-driven; it delineates human fallibility. Its focus is not 17th century politics and religion, but power - its demonstration, use and circulation. The Machiavellian Bishop Santa Cruz does not ‘agitate for the position’ of Archbishop, yet dismantles from the inside. The new Archbishop Aguair y Sejas, a dangerous zealot, admits he has ‘no imagination.’ Both are an anathema to the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Consciously influenced by the rich dramas of the Spanish Golden Age through intrigue, disguise and artistic pragmatism, ‘The Heresy of Love’ utilises tragedy and comedy. If there is an imbalance, it is in the over-soliloquising of the duplicitous Bishop Santa Cruz.  Yet Sor Juana’s strong defence of a woman’s rational soul and God’s preference for knowledge over ignorance, regardless of gender, is a strong dramatic redress. The play’s drive is the struggle for freedom, both public and private. One of Sor Juana’s final acts is to give Juanita her freedom, written on a piece of paper.

Naomi Frederick’s passionate Sor Juana is exceptional. She has a slim, tall frame and mellifluous voice that lends credence to a life of contemplation and intellectual rigour. She also displays a central compassion and elegant wit with patron and friend the Vicereine, an excellent Ellie Piercey, and servant, Juanita. Sophia Nomvete’s Juanita is intensely loyal, practical, with bawdy turns of phrase. And if Frederick’s Sor Juana is the play’s spiritual head, then Nomvete’s Juanita is its corporeal heart.



Sophia Nomvete as Juanita and Naomi Frederick (Sor Juana) in John Dove's production of The Heresy of Love by Helen Edmundson

Photo by Marc Brenner


Gwyneth Keyworth as Sor Juana’s niece, Angelica, is naive and romantic. Her entanglement with the bluff Hernando (Gary Shelford) and her subsequent tragic end are finely nuanced, while Rhiannon Oliver’s Sister Sebastiana, and Anthony Howell Santa Cruz offers taut springs of jealousy and pride.

The composer William Lyons’ score of casual Latinate rhythms and liturgical plain-song provides emotional colouring: ominous drum beats suggest biblical thunder as floods, empty granaries and plague threaten as Sor Juana’s temporal world closes in. Designer Michael Taylor’s wrought iron set suggests the determined will of the Church in its war against decadence. Its versatility, aesthetic and pragmatic, showing the self-containment and self-sufficiency of the convent as a place of sanctuary, while the elongated stacks of books are all the more prominent when they are removed.
In the Kindle age, the power of the word, made flesh or otherwise, is still potent. We need to protect our free-thinkers, for like Hildegard of Bingen, Sor Juana and Sister Wendy Beckett, a cloister of one’s own shows different perspectives, different ways of seeing life.


Naomi Frederick as Sor Juana and Anthony Howell as Bishop Santa Cruz in John Dove's production of The Heresy of Love by Helen Edmundson

Photo by Marc Brenner


Shakespeare’s Globe
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT
Box Office 020 7401 9919
Tickets £5 to £43
Book Tickets:
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