If you haven't heard of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, this modern production telling the story of a nun's conflict between religion and education in 17th Century Mexico, told in the style of a Spanish Golden Age drama, may sound challenging and dry. But Helen Edmundson's play, which premiered at the RSC in 2012, is revived with gumption at the Globe.
Based on the real history of a Hieronymite nun whose gift for writing poetry and plays brought global recognition, Heresy of Love clashes comedy and tragedy together to thrilling effect. Sor Juana, played with clarity and eloquence by Naomi Frederick, is a rousing heroine with plenty of proto-feminist clout. Her defence of women as intellectual beings radiates with relevance on stage
When Sor Juana's faith and intelligence are cast into conflict by a misogynistic Archbishop (Paul Whitchurch) seeking to stifle free thought, she looks to a more enlightened Bishop (Anthony Howell) for support. But, with echoes of Shakespeare, Kyd and Webster, the punning humour and empowering speeches unravel into tense tragedy.
A fellow nun with Iago's monstrous green-eyed envy, a romantic liaison between young ingenue and lothathrio, underlying hypocrisy and natural disaster crank up the final body count.
Humour is close to the surface in the first half, which bubbles with the bawdy innuendoes that work so well on the Globe stage. It takes a few scenes to acclimatise and become absorbed. After a weighty opening dialogue between the clergy, we were pleasantly surprised (and relieved) by the lusty liveliness of the tale. The women's interactions behind the closed cloistered walls were particularly entertaining as Edmundson's rhythmic language was peppered with vivid expressions and turns of phrase.
As pathos mounts in the second half, some of the impassioned speeches verge on trite and a little hammy. There's not much subtlety but it's the momentum and emotional immediacy of Heresy of Love that make it engaging. The 17th century Mexican nunnery feels fresh on stage and you're left with no doubt that Sor Juana's story is an important one that well deserves three hours' stage time.
|What||The Heresy of Love, The Globe|
|Where||The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
05 Aug 15 – 12 Sep 15, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£5 - £43|
|Website||Click here to book via The Globe|