2011

Listed in order, just scroll down to find them – Iron / Love Letters / The Servant / Four Play / The Well / Speed-the-Plow

When we did Rona Munro’s play ‘Iron’ as NVT’s November offering, Jerry Lyne’s production had a minimum of props as a set. I created the inside of the prison almost solely with light – a pool of light on Fay and her daughter in their meeting room, and a series of harsh downlights suggesting the lighting in the corridors as the guards paced to and fro.

There was a prison garden, too, off to one side of the stage, that could only be seen when the light was brought up.

We managed to keep switching the audience’s focus from one location to another. A one point, Fay fantasises about her daughter being at a disco

But the reality is that Fay remains locked up throughout the play – until she finds the means to escape . . . (You can read my thoughts on the sacrifice that Fay has made in the ‘Analyses’ page at http://www.stratmastoris.wordpress.com )

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A R Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ isn’t so much a play as a rehearsed reading. It’s a collection of letters and postcards sent between two upper-class Americans over a period of about forty years.

It’s usually performed by two actors sitting side-by-side at a table or desk, reading out the letters. It’s a popular piece with celebrities, as they can simply pitch up and perform, without the need for more than a very minimal rehearsal.

When I came to direct the piece in October, it struck me that the usual conception is false. Melissa is dead – so how can she be reading out her letters? I decided to stage it as though Andrew had just returned from Melissa’s funeral (note his black tie) and he’s re-reading his file of their correspondence. As he read his letters, Nik (the actor) managed to convey that note of regret and longing over the choices he’d made decades ago. Then the bluish light came up on Melissa, who’d been shrouded in darkness behind him, and she read her letters as though in the present, so Andrew hears them in his head exactly as she’d written them, before the illumination faded away again. The effect was of Melissa as Andrew’s memory, or perhaps a ghost . . .

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I designed the set as well as the lighting for our October production of ‘The Servant’. (I did the poster as well – but Hell, this is my party and I’ll crow if I want to . . .)

‘The Servant’ worked brilliantly as a film, but Robin Maugham’s play version could be a director’s nightmare. The action takes place in the London house that friends have found for a wealthy expat returned from Africa, and jumps from the bedroom, to the lounge, then on to the kitchen. And back again, the different locations following one another very quickly.

So I designed a set with two rotating flats and one fixed door panel. These could be set in different arrangements to produce the different rooms. As the occupant’s mental state deteriorated, and he fell under the influence of his manservant, we created an increasing amount of disarray.

Kirsty Elmer’s confident direction got some fine performances from a great cast.

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How deranged would you have to be to produce a piece where four actors play four characters each, making sixteen different identities? Imagine the number of costume changes- well over one hundred.

Four Play was a country house murder mystery, in the Agatha Christie genre, that Andrew Allen both wrote and directed for our May production. The four actors had to keep track of who they were in each scene – all I had to do was create a daytime and a night lighting state for the lounge.

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Jonathan Brown both wrote and directed ‘The Well’, our March production at NVT. It’s about the digging of a well in Woodingdean, to provide water for a workhouse – but it’s also about the ‘sacred wells’ of Celtic mythology.

We built a structure from scaffolding that could represent the underground workings of the well, but also the crowded tenements and balconies of Victorian Brighton.

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David Mamet’s ‘Speed-the-Plow’ is a play about Hollywood, and the lives of the producers behind the movies that we eventually see. Steven O’Shea directed our January production.

The scenes move between the producer’s office and his apartment. I constructed a folding panel, made of shelves with a fine gauze backing, that acted as an interior glass wall in his office. For the apartment, we folded it back onto the adjoining flat, where it became a set of shelves on his wall.

One of the scene changes had to be done in view of the audience. The script states that the producer had just been appointed, and his office was being redecorated. So we left a patch of wall painted a different colour, for the shelf unit when it was turned, and the stage crew wore white painters’ overalls as we did the transformation.

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