THE HERESY OF LOVE: Helen Edmundson
RSC: The Swan, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 3 h, one interval, till 9 March
Review: Rod Dungate 09 02 12
Hands-on Drama – a terrific new play and production
Helen Edmundson’s HERESY OF LOVE perfectly combines those two magic ingredients – inform and entertain. Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz, Edmundson’s protagonist, was a 17th Century nun in Mexico; she is one of a growing group of extraordinary people we are gradually learning about. She was an intellectual, a writer (and playwright), and a woman who believed that women should be educated and have their own voices.
Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church – the Inquisition was still instilling fear among Catholics – were less than pleased about her writings, and possibly even less pleased about her reputation and popularity. So they decided they must be rid of her, one way or another.
So Edmundson creates a gripping and emotional thriller; one in which we care about the main character and are, by turns, dazzled and horrified by arguments and actions. The scale and tone of Edmundson’s play reflects those of the 17th Century, and for the most part, this works extremely well.
There’s not a weak performance among the team. Catherine McCormack gives a cracking portrayal of Sister Juana, trying to balance her fame and her piety, torn between her wish to uphold the teachings of the Church and her certainty in her belief in women as intellectual beings. Raymond Coulthard gives a chillingly cool performance as the duplicitous Bishop Santa Cruz, sometimes, though, a bit too cool. And Stephen Boxer (Archbishop Aguiar Seijas) is quite terrifying in his certainty that women should be seen and not heard (and absolutely never educated.)
Dona Croll, as the slave Juanita, brings a beautiful warm humanity into focus throughout – a bright light in the darkness.
My only caveat are the Bishop’s direct address speeches. They frequently make explicit things that are better implicit or tell us what we already know or guess at. At these points the production falters, unsure whether to nod back to the past or forward into realism. If Coulthard could commit more viscerally to his wickedness, they may work better. On the other hand, perhaps they should just go.
This caveat aside, Nancy Meckler deftly directs with style, firmly rooting the play in our real world, all within a neat setting by Katrina Lindsay, with its movable fence reminding us of the cage within which we imprison ourselves as well as each other.
Bishop Santa Cruz: Raymond Coulthard
Father Antonio: Geoffrey Beevers
Archbishop Aguiar Seijas: Stphen Boxer
Priest: Youssef Kerkour, Ian Midlane
Mother Marguerita: Diana Kent
Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz: Catherine McCormack
Sister Sebastiana: Teresa Banham
Angelica: Sarah Ovens
Brigida: Marty Cruickshank
Juanita: Dona Croll
Nun: Laura Darrall
Viceroy: Daniel Stewart
Vicereine: Catherine Hamilton
Don Hernando: Simon Thorp
Director: Nancy Meckler
Design: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting Designer: Be Ormerod
Music by: Ilona Sekacz
Sound Designed by: John Leonard
Movement Director: Liz Ranken
Company Dramaturg: Jeanie O”Hare
Company Text and Voice Work by: Alison Bomber
Dialect Coach: Charmian Hoare