Major Design Influences

Inevitably there is a hint of rose coloured spectacles about this selection, as most productions come from a period when I was just starting out in theatre, but what they seem to have in common is a real fusion of visual imagery and the storytelling ability of actors to create a whole experience in which it is often difficult to say what is the design, what the acting, what the direction. They are nearly all examples of great collaboration, critical history has often forgotten the role of the designer as the flame of the director’s fame burns so bright, but Sally Jacobs had to battle with Brook to get her vision through and without Chloe the Mahabharata would have been infinitely poorer as an experience. In many cases there is a strong sense of community with the audience and performers sharing the same space, something that has inspired my work on the new RST in Stratford

Chloe Obolensky / Peter Brook Mahabharata. Tramway Glasgow

An epic experience and the transformation of a whole building into an evocation of India. I went expecting huge scenic effects and instead was captured by the simple beautiful story telling in one single space through clothes, Jean Kalman’s light and the elemental use of earth, fire and water. I met Chloe later and was taken on as an assistant at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris for their production of the Tempest, an experience that has informed my work ever since.

Lucio Fanti /Peter Stein. The Hairy Ape National theatre

At the National I got a day ticket and ended up in the front row. Inspired by the Russian Constructivist designs of the Stenberg brothers the first half of the show opened with the audience confronted with the entire side of a liner, sections slid up to reveal the crew quarters in the centre, the upper deck where we looked straight up at the privileged passengers above us like gods and then finally the whole lower section slid up to reveal a hell of stokers and furnaces. It was a brilliant example of spatial realism that dramatised the social structure inherent in the architecture of the liner.

Sally Jacobs / Peter Brook. Midsummer Night’s Dream RST Stratford upon Avon

I only know this from images and legend. The first Shakespeare design which really allowed the possibility of our imaginations, in tandem with the images created by Shakespeare’s words, to conjure up a world.  A vivid empty space in which to tell the story, something I am always striving towards.   Proof that great design is not illustration.

Robert le page/ Ex machina. Far side of the moon

Witty, beautiful and ultimately very moving piece of storytelling, the master at the integration of performer, imagery and technology, but not afraid to use seemingly simple devices too. The transformation of a salt cellar and ketchup bottle into a lunar mission was breathtaking!

Bill Dudley/Bill Bryden. The Ship. Harland and Woolf ship yard Glasgow

One of the few times where the design has moved me to tears, the ship was the theatre space; the audience witnessed the actors constructing the ship around them. At the end the whole structure was launched down a 100 metre long runway. The theatre left the audience!

Robert Wilson H.G.

Not strictly performance, more art installation, but moving through the Clink Street vaults near London bridge we were led on a journey of discovery of magical imagery, sometimes in full detail like an abandoned Georgian dining room through to eerie tableaux of hospital beds and bare light bulbs, and at one point a whole tropical rainforest seen tantalisingly through a grill across a tunnel. A huge influence on site specific work I have seen since.

Richard Hudson/Jonathan Millar. The Emperor The Royal court

A small gem entirely made of reclaimed doors used to brilliant and comic effect up stairs at the Royal Court

Isabella Bywater/Deborah Warner. Titus Andronicus The pit

A pared back aesthetic that developed out of rehearsal, this was an incredibly powerful visceral production without resorting to gallons of blood.

John Napier/Trevor Nunn Nicolas Nickelby

I saw this on video only as a teenager but the sense of a whole environment and the actors working so well within it to create a complex narrative with the minimum of props has stayed with me.

Rae smith/Tom Morris. War horse National Theatre.

Not just the puppet horses, but a great use of the Olivier stage by Rae with the projection of drawing evoking the terror of the trenches.

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