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The Heresy of Love review at Swan Stratford-upon-Avon

Helen Edmundson’s new play for the RSC is based on the life of Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century Mexican nun who was also a poet and playwright. Sister Juana had a questing, infinitely curious nature, a hunger for learning. For a while she was able to live an intellectual life, to read and write what she wished, but eventually she was forced to lay down her pen as her creativity was deemed antithetical to her vows, incompatible with her duty to God.

Sister Juana had her supporters, both in the church and the court, and Edmundson’s play is alert to the complexities of her situation, recognising that the convent – for a time at least – was not a cage, rather a space of her own where she was able to think, to study, to write, in the way few women could.

Catherine McCormack is a compelling central presence as Sister Juana, radiant in manner and rich of voice, a passionate, driven woman. There is strong support too from the ensemble cast, particularly from Raymond Coulthard, who is suitably oily and duplicitous as the bishop who, though initially drawn to Sister Juana, will later betray her. Stephen Boxer resists the urge to overplay as the strict Spanish archbishop who can barely bring himself to look on a woman for fear of contagion and Geoffrey Beevers brings warmth to the role of the kind yet easily swayed Father Antonio.

Nancy Meckler’s production is a little over emphatic in places, but as the play reaches its end and as everything Sister Juana holds dear is stripped from her, it’s hard not to be moved.

Production Information

Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon, February 2-March 9

Author
Helen Edmundson
Director
Nancy Meckler
Producer
RSC
Cast includes
Catherine McCormack, Raymond Coulthard, Stephen Boxer, Geoffrey Beevers, Sarah Ovens, Catherine Hamilton
Running time
3hrs

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