House of Desires
Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, translated by Catherine Boyle
RSC at the Playhouse
The Royal Shakespeare Company's Spanish Golden Age Season is proving a real delight. Following The Dog in the Manger, House of Desires proves itself to be a hilarious, bawdy comedy which is not what one would have anticipated. Its author, Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz was a 17th century nun and might have expected to spend her life in quiet contemplation rather than writing such a play.
It is quite hard to disentangle the contributions of the writer and her director. Nancy Meckler of Shared Experience brings all of her usual skill to bear in delivering a non-naturalistic, highly ironic production that relies on acting and mime skills for much of its impact. She also draws excellent performances from every member of her cast.
In particular, her clever idea of freezing the rest of the action (and actors), while characters are delivering very regular interior monologues, is both effective and adds greatly to the enjoyment.
The plot has the feel of a Restoration comedy that eventually accelerates into well-defined farce. The action takes place in Toledo, the sense of location enhanced by designer Katrina Lindsay's simple set featuring a busy altarpiece, traditional costume and Ilona Sekacz' music which borrows much from flamenco.
The play is set in the home of bumbling Don Pedro (William Buckhurst) and his sister Doña Ana (Claire Cox). The latter is betrothed to Don Juan (Oscar Pearce) but takes a fancy to Don Carlos (Joseph Millson).
He in turn has helped the lovely Doña Leonor (Rebecca Johnson), who is fancied by Don Pedro, to elope from the House of her impoverished father Don Rodrigo (Peter Sproule).
This would give much scope for confusion without the intrusion of two particularly bright and mischievous servants. Celia (Katherine Kelly) works for Doña Ana and has a particularly wicked sense of humour further fired by a desire for fineries.
The cowardly Castagno (Simon Trinder) can be more of a burden than a help to his master, Don Carlos. However, he more than earns his pay after the interval when after a five-minute monologue that will delight the members of the Simon Trinder Fan Club, he transforms himself into Doña Leonor and gets close to marrying his master.
Inevitably, there is a happy ending with three prospective marriages and a final celebratory dance. Only poor Don Pedro is left forlorn.
House of Desires is a joy throughout its two-and-a-half-hour duration. Miss Meckler is at her very best and it seems almost unfair to pick out Joseph Millson, Claire Cox, Katherine Kelly and Simon Trinder, who in their various ways ensure that this comic romance of reputation and revenge is, like Doña Leonor, "of consummate perfection".
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version
Reviewer: Philip Fisher