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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Heresy of Love: The Final Push

To be allowed into the inner sanctum of the RSC – that is the auditorium during the final technical and dress rehearsals – is a humble treat. ‘The Heresy of Love’ opened on February 2nd but the final days of January were a tense, feverous time for the cast and creative teams as lighting, sound and costume were all introduced to each other and performed in tandem with the actors.

‘The Heresy of Love’ follows the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in Mexico as she struggles with the weight of being one of the brightest women of her generation while reconciling her love for God with her desire for learning and public acclaim. Catherine McCormack takes on this monumental womanly role, supported by the RSC Ensemble who are presenting the Spring Season in the Swan which comprises of ‘Measure for Measure’ and ‘Written on the Heart’ as well as ‘Hersey’.

As an intern for the Marketing Department I was kindly allowed to shadow the lighting designer Ben and the Chief Electrician Kevin and observe the final days of rehearsal.  The director Nancy, the Stage Manager Suzy and her deputy and assistant, the designer Katrina and a whole host of people were dotted around the auditorium and backstage as the scenes ran through their lighting states and the actors through their lines.

During public performance the creative team are rarely seen by the unassuming patrons but during this final rehearsal process the techies sit huddled around a semi circle of desks erected in the stalls.  Their faces always appear to be lit up by the light emanating from laptop screens and control desks, with the occasional desk lamp shedding a little more luminescence into the dark auditorium for the team to work by.

And then the final push begins: the house lights are down, the stage lights are up switching from state to state as Ben whispers to Kevin via the personal audio system that the designers and stage managers and technicians all tune into. Lanterns are plotted, focussed and the intensity of light is tweaked and experimented with until Ben and Nancy are happy with the atmosphere and environment that the lighting creates.

The technical rehearsal can be a long and arduous process, especially for the actors who must stand poised on stage, mid scene as changes are made and problems solved, but it’s a critical process and every production from the humblest play to the grandest musical must go through this stage of rehearsal.

I had been warned of insults and curses being thrown across the stage in fatigued frustration, of angry actors and tense technicians, of flying scripts flung in defiance and much stomping and groaning and sulking. Much to my disappointment the cast and creative team of 'Heresy' were well behaved and retained civility – a few lines were forgotten along the way of the Dress, and the set didn’t always yield to the will of the performers, but no one was even close to throwing a ‘Queenie’!

The Dress run came down with a few hours to spare before public performance and the last thing to be staged was the curtain call – it took a few attempts to get everyone bowing in time to the correct side of the auditorium and there was a great deal of debate on how many bows to take and when to direction to the orchestra for their applause. Much to everyone’s relief, Nancy soon sorted the thespian rabble out and then they were free to go...until it would be time to do it all again, and this time for real!

If you fancy learning more about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and this beautiful production of her life, then catch ‘The Heresy of Love’ playing in the Swan Theatre until 9th March.

Photograph courtesy of Robert Day with words by Amelia Cartwright, aged 19.