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RSC 2012

[Track 1]            Index

2                    Introduction and set

3                    Characters and costumes

[Track 2]   Welcome to this introduction to the Royal Shakespeare Company
production of The Heresy of Love, written by Helen Edmondson and directed by
Nancy Meckler for the RSC, and performed in the Swan Theatre. Sound is
designed by John Leonard and the musical director is Candida Caldicot. Audio
description is by Ridanne Sheridan and Ellie Packer.

The Heresy of Love is set in Mexico and looks at the life of Sister Juana (Huana),
Inez de la Cruz, recognised as one of the brightest women of her generation and the
author of ‘House of Desires’, which was written in 1683 and performed at court. Her
plays, writings and poetry were celebrated then and recognised now; ‘House of
Desires’ was one of the great successes of the RSC’s award winning season of
Spanish Golden Age Plays.

Before Sister Juana entered the convent, she was a Lady-in-Waiting at the court of
the Viceroy, the representative of the Spanish crown. The friendship she formed,
during this period of her life, with the Vicereine, is maintained by the visits paid to her
at the convent by the vice regal couple, and also by their patronage of her writing.
Their commissions of poetry and plays from her pen provide her with a useful,
independent income.

The play begins with Sister Juana already established at the Hieronymite Convent in
Mexico City as a new Archbishop arrives in Mexico, bringing with him the attitudes,
expectations and rigours of the Spanish Inquisition.

As we enter the Swan theatre with its metre high thrust stage, surrounded on three
sides by the audience; we stand on narrow walkways bordered with simple, bright-
painted tiled edges. These walkways are positioned on either edge of the thrust, and
are also used by cast members as entrances and exits. This design instantly


highlights our arrival in what was then considered New Spain; Mexico. The tiled
pattern continues around the three edges of the black stage floor.

As we lift our heads from the tiles we are struck by a reproduction of a painting of
Christ on the cross, by Velazquez, which appears to span the back wall of the

Beyond the painting, the set continues until it reaches the brick back wall of the
theatre which represents the furthest boundaries of the convent.

The reproduction painting is of the upper section, highlighting Jesus’ face, crown of
thorns, and partial halo, his head is dropped and tilted to our left, the right hand side
of his face is in shadow, this shadow is cast down the right side of the painting,
creating darkened areas below. The painting is in a heavy gilt wooden frame, the
edges of which are decorated with a repeated pattern of simple wooden carvings. In
the top centre we are struck by a sunburst of golden wood which sticks out above
the frame.

it is made of varying lengths of wood and forms a 3-Dimensional addition to the
halo around Jesus’s head. At ground level on either side of the painting, metal
grilles are permanently in place allowing no access.

Doors and openings are made by way of barely discernible cut out sections in the

The convent is an enclosed order, meaning that the nuns are never allowed to leave
the grounds. Designer Katrina Lindsay has created a key device which allows us to
participate in scenes both inside and outside of the convent; a two and a half high
semi-circular, metal-barred grille, which is rolled back and forth. This grille forms the
boundary of ‘The Locutary’, a parlour or reception area, the only place where the
nuns may talk with visitors.

The space between the bars is wide enough to pass a hand through and to see both
clearly in and out. The only way in, is a door with a solid lock and circular ring
handle on the right hand side of the gates. The door includes a lockable opening,
large enough to pass parcels through. The metal bars are topped with small ornate


mouldings and are welded together with horizontal bars at approximately half a
metre, and two metres.

When the grille is pulled out we are in the place of the visitors, when it is retracted
we are inside the convent.

The lighting by Ben Ormerod plays a major part in setting the mood for the play.
Most scenes are dimly lit; what light there is, casts shadows and adds a feeling of
shifting uncertainty.

The play opens in the Archbishop’s palace. A large ornate gilt candelabra with
sixteen flickering candles hangs over the centre of the stage. Beneath it, is a formal
chair, and though not large, it reflects affluence. It’s built in an x style, with a back-
board supporting the frame. It is gilt wood with a plush velvet seat. To the rear on
the left is a door and next to that a rough dark brown/black stool with coarse rivets.

In most scenes and situations, when not standing, people sit on stools. These are of
differing qualities but all low, from a foot high to a maximum of a foot and a half.

Visitors of high rank to the convent such as the Viceroy and Vicereine are seated on
stools with an intricate Moorish cut out design to the wooden base and upholstered
with red velvet.

For Sister Juana’s cell, a small wooden desk is crammed next to the wall in the dark
shadows of the lower section of the painting. It is lit by one small candle. The door
to this cell is on the right-hand side of the painted wall. She uses a simple hard
wooden chair. There is another bare wooden stool for guests.

There are piles of bound books on her desk, with paper and quills for writing. The
cell appears cramped and cluttered and we have to imagine her book collection,
which is extensive enough to form a small library. When guests visit Juana, they reel
off book titles and point to the left and front of the stage.

[Track 3]   The props and costumes are traditional and reflect late 17 th century
Mexico. Many of the Nun’s gowns are rather more sumptuous than one might
expect for a religious order, but serve as a reminder that most of the Sisters are
members of noble families and wish to maintain their aristocratic appearance, even
in a nun’s habit. And although not of noble birth, SISTER JUANA ‘s choices are no


exception. She is a tall, slim, elegant figure whose fine-boned beauty is seen to
advantage in the severe lines of her nun’s habit. White cloth encloses her face from
brow to chin, covering her ears, and on top of this, a fine, black veil, the edges drawn
back from her face and fastened behind her head, trails down her back to her waist.
She is dressed in a high necked gown of pearly white satin, the heavy, wide skirts of
which trail, and rustle, along the floor as she walks. Her narrow waist is circled by a
double row of matching silk cord, a nod to the rope belts of more rigorous orders, but
of more luxurious material. Over the gown is worn a black tabard, narrower than her
shoulders, which falls straight at front and back, almost to the hem of her dress.

Played by Catherine McCormack, Sister Juana’s lovely face is bright with intelligence
but her character is perhaps less naturally submissive than the ideal candidate for
convent life. For her, the cloister is not only a religious retreat; it provides a sheltered
haven in which to pursue her studies and to write, unmolested by the demands and
strictures of secular society.

Sister Juana’s niece, ANGELICA, is staying with her at the Convent. She is a lively,
teenaged girl played by Sarah Ovens. Pretty and pert, she wears a plain, pale blue
waisted frock, with a full skirt, which falls to mid calf, dark stockings and flat, soft
leather lace-up shoes. Her luxuriant chestnut hair is plaited away from her face on
one side and tumbles over her shoulders. A blue ribbon, to match her dress, is
woven into her plaited hair and is her only adornment.

Sister Juana’s personal attendant is her slave, JUANITA, a handsome, confident,
black woman in her forties. Played by Dona Croll, she has broad cheekbones, widely
spaced, almond-shaped eyes and wide smile which lights up her whole face. She
favours bright colours for her clothes, and though the materials are poor, the mint
green and rosy pink of her gathered up skirts make a cheerful effect. Her head is
wrapped in a turban of striped fabric with a pearl pinned into the front of it. Juanita
clip clops about in leather sandals with heavy wooden soles.

The Mother Superior of the convent is MOTHER MARGUERITA, played by Diana
Kent. She is a serene, good-looking dark eyed woman, with the natural authority of
one used to being obeyed without question. Her gown is of dark grey satin.


SISTER SEBASTIANA is another nun at the convent. The daughter of a noble
house, she carries the sense of her own social importance in her every movement.
Shrewd and calculating, she is careful to reveal no emotion, keeping her pretty, fair
countenance composed in the company of her fellow sisters. Played by Teresa
Banham, she is dressed in the same way as Sister Juana, except her gown is a
slightly different shade of pale satin. She has a rosary tucked into the silk cords at
her waist.

Less important nuns are clothed in plain, black habits, unrelieved by white, and
shorter veils of cheaper material.

The general servant in the convent is BRIGIDA, an older woman who has clearly
devoted the best years of her life to the service of the nuns. Played by Marty
Cruickshank, she has a weary, anxious face and wears worn, coarse-textured, dull,
grey clothes, with a rough grey apron tied round her waist. Her head is wrapped in a
white cloth, twisted up into a turban concealing all her hair. She wears ribbed, grey
stockings and she shuffles round in flat, heelless sandals.

The Court visits to the convent strikingly contrast the glowing colours and jewelled
richness of aristocratic dress with the sobriety of the nuns’ habits.

THE VICEROY, played by Daniel Stewart, is a tall, imposing figure in a fine doublet
and breeches of black and gold. A cloak of heavy brocade, decorated with silk
tassels, is worn over one shoulder. He has short brown hair and pointed beard. He is
rather taciturn and allows his wife to lead the way in talking to Sister Juana.

THE VICEREINE, a pretty woman of about thirty with blonde curls and large, blue
eyes, is resplendent in a vivid scarlet velvet dress, looped up at the front to display a
striped, red brocade underskirt. The bodice, laced up tightly at the back has
sparkling diamond buttons down the front. A small, white ruff is around her neck and
large pearls dangle from her ears. Both her hands are heavy with sparkling rings.

Later, she wears a high-waisted dress of heavy black figured silk, glinting with gold
thread, and a sleeveless gown on top with a luxuriant floral pattern in autumnal
colours. The Vicereine is played by Catherine Hamilton


DON HERNANDO, a Spanish grandee in his forties, often accompanies the Court
party on their visits to the convent. Played by Simon Thorp, he is a decided ladies’
man, appraising, through half-closed lids, all females who come under his gaze. His
dark hair is slightly receding, but is carefully arranged to disguise this. A narrow
moustache curls up at each end to add to the dashing image. Extremely tall, he
carries his beautiful clothes well. He wears a sumptuous red and black doublet with
large, gold buttons down the front, with a starched, white, stand up collar and white
cuffs. His black breeches, heavily embroidered with gold thread at the sides, are
fastened at the knee by clusters of ribbon. He has black stockings and his high
heeled black shoes are adorned with gold rosettes. Sometimes he changes these for
fine leather top boots with jingling spurs. He carries an ebony cane, with silver top,
more for ornament than use.

The power of the clergy in New Spain rivals that of the Court. The most important
cleric is the newly appointed ARCHBISHOP AGUIAR Y SEIJAS, played by Stephen
Boxer. A slight man of about fifty, of medium height, it is not his physicality which
makes him such an imposing presence. It is rather the irresistible authority he
manages to convey with his whole being, without raising his voice or making grand
gestures. He is the embodiment of the obstinate, ruthless intransigence of a fanatic;
one who is true to his perceived vocation and is as pitiless to himself as he is to
others. His thin face is tired and worn with bags under the eyes. His hair is greying
and his beard grey. When other people speak to him he often closes his eyes, as if
in communication with his inner self. He sometimes wears small, round gold-rimmed
spectacles, but removes them in the presence of women, in order not to see them
too clearly. When we first meet him he is wearing a floor-length linen shift under a
burgundy coloured velvet robe and matching pill box hat. Later he wears a black
satin cassock with a short cape over the shoulders with black satin hat, a rosary
round his neck and his archbishop’s jewelled ring on his right hand.

The Archbishop is attended by two PRIESTS in plain, black cassocks, played by
Youssef Kerkour and Ian Midlane.

SANTA CRUZ, the Bishop of Puebla, is disappointed not to have been appointed
Archbishop himself. Played by Raymond Coulthard, he is an impressive sight. Much
taller than the new Archbishop, he is classically good-looking and almost gleams in


his magnificent white satin cassock with its shoulder cape and matching skull cap
with notable elegance. A gold cross hangs round his neck from a glinting gold chain.
His is just the sort of figure to set the hearts of an enclosed order of nuns fluttering.
However, the smooth, sleek, almost bland contours of his face, and the seemingly
guileless and benign gaze of his blue eyes mask a more complex character.

FATHER ANTONIO, played by Geoffrey Beevers, has been sister Juana’s father
confessor since she was a child. The same height as the new Archbishop, he is a
very different personality. His character is weak, and although sincere in his religious
convictions, he is easily swayed by those stronger than himself. He is self-effacing,
anxious and earnest with a hesitant, sweet smile. Slight of build, in his late fifties, his
white hair is brushed forward to form a short, feathery fringe above his high
forehead. He wears a sleeveless, black velvet, floor length gown with glittering jet
buttons. His sleeves are wide and made of bronze satin. A double cord of black silk,
ending in tassels, is round his waist, with a rosary of brown wooden beads tucked
into it.

The Heresy of Love runs for 2 and ¾ hours with an interval of 20 minutes.

That is the end of the introduction to The Heresy of Love. You may wish to note that
this introduction was recorded early in the play’s run, and changes in set and
costumes may occur as the run progresses. We will incorporate any changes into
the live introduction, beginning fifteen minutes before the start of the show.

Thank you.


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