THE HERESY OF LOVE
by Helen Edmundson.
Shakespeare’s Globe 21 New Globe Walk Bankside SE1 9DT In rep to 5 September 2015.
7.30pm 21, 27, 28 Aug, 4 Sept Mat 2pm 22 Aug, 5 Sept.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7401 9919.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 August.
Hardly a play for the great Globe itself, but an unfamiliar corner of history given dramatic immediacy.
Fitting briefly into the Globe’s 2015 ‘Justice and Mercy’ season, Helen Edmundson’s 2012 drama highlights a remarkable woman in a remote society, Sister Juana de la Cruz and 17th-century New Mexico, part of Spain’s Catholic empire.
The play sits well with the Globe’s Measure for Measure. As in Shakespeare’s Vienna, governance has grown tolerant. Juana expects to live comfortably in the convent, with a servant – paid for by writing the equivalent of greetings card verses – and, against the rule, receives society visitors in her cell. She writes a play, performed to welcome a new archbishop from Spain.
But, no theatregoer, he’s determined to clean-up New Mexican Catholicism. Unlike Measure’s strict Angelo, Archbishop Aguiar y Sejas doesn’t succumb to Juana, determinedly averting his face, then, when finally facing her, speaking in condemnatory tones.
His Catholicism cannot cope with assertive intelligence in a woman. The only strange thing is that the new archbishop doesn’t answer Juana’s Protestant-like challenge to support his arguments with evidence from the Bible by insisting that the Church’s word is enough.
John Dove’s production makes the convent anything but contemplative as inhabitants and visitors scurry around. It fits the action as the earthly powers tighten the grip on a character Edmundson portrays as saintly – forgiving, understanding, and accepting authority in a world that doesn’t deserve her.
Some are actively opposed – a jealous nun’s devious plots, reminder of the dark passions in Robert Browning’s ‘Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister’, sour an already career-frustrated priest’s fondness for Juana, while well-disposed secular authority move back to Spain for family reasons; in the end genius can rely on no-one.
Naomi Frederick’s lively Juana frames the limits of even a spirited 17th-century nun, while Gabrielle Lloyd offers a rare sense of divided loyalty elsewhere as the convent boss who fears the nun she so likes will bring down the Inquisition. Phil Whitchurch gives stolid credibility to the implacably unimaginative Archbishop.
Though the realistic, confined action hardly finds a natural home on the Globe’s open space the story is well told as a happy little world is invaded by the demands of wider authority.
Father Antonio: Patrick Driver.
Sister Juana: Naomi Frederick.
Bishop Santa Cruz: Anthony Howell.
Ahngelica: Gwyneth Keyworth.
Mother Marguerita: Gabrielle Lloyd.
Viceroy: William Mannering.
Juanita: Sophia Nomvete.
Sister Sebastiana: Rhiannon Oliver.
Vicereine: Ellie Piercy.
Brigida: Susan Porrett.
Don Hernando: Gary Shelford.
Archbishop Aguiar y Sejas: Phil Whitchurch.
Ensemble: Finn Coburn, Tamaryn Payne.
Director: John Dove.
Designer: Michael Taylor.
Musical Director: Phil Hopkins.
Choreographer: Siân Williams.
Globe associate – Movement: Glynn Macdonald.
Voice/Dialect: Martin McKellan.