The Heresy of Love is a brilliant new play by Helen Edmundson and has been skillfully staged by John Dove in what is a simple but powerful production.
Edmundson’s new play questions what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated society. Sister Juana – excellently played by Naomi Frederick – is an exemplar figure of a woman who would not be silenced. Frederick gives a very dynamic performance of a woman who fights for the importance of one’s voice, one’s gift, and one’s right to argue in a turbulent society like that of 17th-century Mexico.
Director John Dove has used the Globe’s big stage in a very effective way, keeping the action constantly close to the audience while creating an intimate and yet striking atmosphere. William Lyons’ live music contributes in the production’s excellent pace and in swift scene transitions.
Edmundson has found the perfect balance between tragedy and humour, and even though The Heresy of Love touches upon very serious issues, there is a lot of dry humour throughout and many comic elements, which the cast handles masterfully. Sophia Nomvete, in particular, is delightful in the part of Juanita. The play is also an important comment on theatre and writing. Sister Juana is being persecuted for what is her own writing and voice. The nuns of the convent and the Archbishop question what a play is. Is it a piece of decadence, they wonder? Priests in Mexico are burning books, while Father Antonio forbids Sister Juana to keep on writing plays. Sister Juana fights for her – and every woman’s – right to have a voice within and beyond the church. Michael Taylor has effectively filled the stage with shelves and books. In a very powerful moment, in the end of the play, all these books will be removed from the stage, taken to be burnt by priests.
This is a well-paced production with an excellent cast and a lot of questions to raise about whether women should lead silent lives. In a society which nurtures fear, where the Church and religion become a demon, being afraid of your own self and soul becomes unavoidable. The Heresy of Love is about the fight to remain intact, to strive for your freedom when everything seems to go against you.