The Heresy of Love - an extraordinary life brought to stage

21 November 2011

The Heresy of Love

A New Play by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Nancy Meckler
Designed by Katrina Lindsay
Swan Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6BB
2 February – 9 March 2012
Press Night: 8 February 2012
Box Office: 0844 800 1110

Twitter Hashtag #RSCHeresy

Helen Edmundson's The Heresy of Love is a new play based on the extraordinary life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a poet, nun and major Baroque literary figure of Mexico. Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the play runs in repertoire in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 2 February to 9 March 2012.

Helen was inspired to write the play after she saw the RSC's production of Sor Juana's play House of Desires at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon during the company's award-winning Spanish Golden Age season in 2004.

'I saw House of Desires and thought it was terrific and surprisingly funny and meaningful and everything a good play should be. After the show I spoke to the director, Nancy Meckler – someone I've been lucky enough to work with a great deal – and she told me that the story of the playwright was extraordinary and that she thought I would love it. She lent me a huge tome about Sor Juana, written by Octavio Paz, and before I was half way through the book, I knew the she was right; it was inspiring stuff, and there was certainly a play to be written.'

Helen did a huge amount of research and immersed herself in Sor Juana's life and work. 'There are two complete plays and one more fragmented play. There are also many religious works – often musical – written to be performed in churches. Then there are several documents relating to her life. For example, the confession she wrote towards the end of her life when she decided to retake her vows and renounce writing, still survives.'

Born Juana Ramirez de Asbaje in a small town not far from Mexico City to a Criolla mother and Basque father in 1651, she was able to read from the age of three. By five she was writing verse. By six or seven she begged her mother to allow her to dress as a boy in order to attend the university in Mexico City where she could learn the sciences. Her wish was refused so she studied in her grandfather's library.

When she finally arrived in Mexico City, she entered the vice-regal court – a world of flirting, love, games and riddles, a highly coded atmosphere where women fleetingly enjoyed relative sexual freedom, but were also bound by the rigours of the marriage market. Juana was famed for her beauty, wit and intelligence, and by her teens she was regarded as a strange bird - a woman with learning.

In 1669 Juana entered the Convent of Saint Paula of the Order of St Jerome 'because although I knew that this life had many things that were repugnant to my nature, it was less than the abhorrence I had for marriage.'

In the convent, which allowed her a high level of autonomy, Juana continued her studies, but such was her fame that she was constantly commissioned to write both religious and profane poetry and works of theatre. Her life ended in April 1695 during an outbreak of plague.

Helen adds 'I've taken what's known about her as a starting point and then let my imagination go. Just enough is known about her to inspire me, but not enough to stifle me. The play imagines a particular time in her life – a time of crisis. A crisis which throws up questions about, amongst other things, the role of women in the church and about what happens when we move away from organized religion and try to create a form of faith which suits the way we want to live.'

Originally an actress, Helen's plays have included an adaptation of Jamila Gavin's award-winning Coram Boy at the National, Orestes – Blood and Light for Shared Experience and The Clearing. Her adaptation of Swallows and Amazons is in the West End this Christmas and she has written an adaption of Therese Raquin for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York.

Catherine McCormack plays the central role of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Catherine's films include the lead in Anna Campion's Loaded, Braveheart, Spy Game and Dangerous Beauty.

Also joining the Swan Winter season specifically for this production are: Dona Croll (Juanita), Marty Cruickshank (Brigida) and Diana Kent (Madre Marguerita).

The remainder of the cast is part of the RSC's Swan Winter Season and can currently be seen in David Edgar's Written on the Heart and Roxana Silbert's new production of Measure for MeasureTeresa Banham (Sor Sebastiana), Geoffrey Beevers (Fray Antonio) Stephen Boxer (Archbishop Aguiar), Raymond Coulthard (Bishop Santa Cruz), Laura Darrall (Nun), Catherine Hamilton (Vicereine), Youssef Kerkour (Priest), Ian Midlane (Priest), Sarah Ovens (Angelica), Daniel Stewart (Viceroy) and Simon Thorp (Don Hernando).

Director Nancy Meckler and designer Katrina Lindsay have worked together on many projects including the RSC's hugely successful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this summer as well as House of Desires in 2004. Lighting is by Ben Ormerod, music by Ilona Sekacz, sound by John Leonard, movement by Liz Ranken and the dramaturg is Jeanie O'Hare.

For further information please contact Nada Zakula in the RSC Press Office on 01789 412622

For regional enquires and press tickets please contact Dean Asker on 01789 412660

21 November 2011

Note to Editors:

• The RSC Literary Department is generously supported by THE DRUE HEINZ TRUST.

• Cross are the exclusive pen partner of the RSC in support of new writing.

• Q and A with Helen Edmundson available on request.

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