I’ve been to Cardiff this week, along with practically every other theatre set, costume & lighting designer in the country, to install a couple of small exhibits as part of the Society of British Theatre Designers four-yearly exhibition, this year themed Transformation & Revelation. The exhibition is being hosted at the impressive new Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama building which nestles into the edge of Bute Park between the river, University and Castle in Cardiff.

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The exhibition opens officially on Friday and was only partly set up when I was installing on Monday but it already has the hallmarks of every theatre design exhibition I’ve ever seen: a fascinating and beautiful array of modelboxes, costumes, masks, photographs, props – illustrating a bewildering variety of styles and scales of performance (and budget!)….and generally of course, it’s far to much to take in in any one visit.

For those of you who can’t make it to Cardiff (tho’ we think you certainly should), here’s a taster of our modest input:

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SPACE ODYSSEY: AN INTERGALACTIC OPERA
‘Whilst the Civic Hall at Stratford-Upon-Avon is a performance venue, there is no fixed seating, so I approached Space Odyssey in the way I would usually tackle a piece of site-specific work: finding what will work best for this space. Since the hall is a near-perfect octagon with splendid acoustics, we ignored the built in stage and instead configured the space as a long traverse, with the choir of 80 children at one end and the orchestra of 11 plus conductor at the other. This just about left a six metre diameter playing area in which to accommodate the (at times) vast numbers of cast portraying Odysseus’ journey through space from the planet Troy at one end of the galaxy to Earth, home and Penelope at the other. With circular plinths, some hanging planets and a bit of nifty work with gobos and moving lights, the Civic Hall to galaxy transformation was complete.

In this show though, perhaps the transformation and revelation was less about the design, and not even really about the transposing of Homer’s Odyssey to space, but more about the way the young choir and cast from three Stratford Schools more than stepped up to the mark.’

Orchestra of the Swan & Talking Birds
at Stratford Upon Avon Civic Hall 2010

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FOREVER IN YOUR DEBT
‘The design developed alongside the script, each slightly influencing the other, with my feeling that there was a need for some sort of physical transformation in the design, leading to the writing of the building demolition denouement. It was the first time these two theatre companies had collaborated, bringing together two quite different processes for making work, with Foursight’s emphasis being on devising around the scripted material throughout the rehearsal process.

I’ve done a lot of design for devised work and so am used to building possibilities into a set, usually in the form of cupboards or hatches out of which to produce props unthought of at the point of design, or putting everything on wheels so that the elements of the set can be moved about if it becomes necessary once the show begins to unfold. In this case, once I had the visual start and end points I designed the set to break up into several moveable units and left it up to the acting company to devise the exact sequence of the transformation from rooftop to rubble – via slide, boat, cowboy steer, row of terraced houses and maternity ward.’

Foursight Theatre & Talking Birds
Touring 2010

 

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