Listed in order, just scroll down to find them – Great Expectations / Gabriel / Short Play Festival / The Father
Who can forget the opening scene of Great Expectations’? Pip, in the graveyard, with the escaped convict Magwych creeping up on him. Later, of course, the action moves to Satis House, where the jilted Miss Havisham still waits at her wedding feast, thirty years later . . .
A number of locations to light in Diane Robinson’s December production at NVT. Judith Berrill’s set design incorporated a lot of physical theatre, with the actors moving simple wooden frames which became doors, gravestones and, at one point, even a boat.
We utilised the structural column in the centre of the stage to hang a rotating door. As an actor passed through the entrance, they rotated the door frame, so that the stage transformed from an exterior to an interior setting. It’s the same system I used several years ago on ‘A Christmas Carol’. It’s becoming a Dickens tradition!
It was a great (and enjoyable) challenge to create a sense of depth and space on what is in reality quite a small stage. Sometimes quite gloomy, but the story demanded it.
It all ends badly for Miss Havisham – but creating the fire was a lot of fun for us . . .
October, the start of a new theatre season. One of the joys of the New Venture Theatre is that we have set designers who can create an attic – just a sketch of bricks on a raised platform – that takes the audience right to a farmhouse in occupied Guernsey during WW2
Jeanne Becquet’s family’s house has been taken over by the occupying German forces, her daughter Estelle is in trouble with with the German commander, and the boy in the attic might be a British pilot, or an SS officer, or he might just be a fallen angel.
Moira Buffini’s play ‘Gabriel’ is a multi-layered piece, with acts of resistance to the German occupiers taking place alongside collaboration, and a thriving black-market operation run by Jeanne’s housekeeper. But a dominant theme is the turbulent relationship that develops between Jeanne and Major Von Pfunz.
My lighting had to switch the audience’s focus between the farmhouse kitchen and the attic, and also evoke a range of times, from early morning right through to the middle of the night. At the play’s opening, young Estelle is trying to cast spells against the Germans, and Mrs Lake the housekeeper enters with a lantern.
Short play Festival
A bit of a break for a few months, mostly photographing other productions that I hadn’t worked on, but in July we staged another short play festival at New Venture.
Three short plays, all very different and run back-to-back, meant that I had to design lighting that worked to produce three very different environments.
‘Agency’ is about a Government aide turned whistleblower, who’s just quit her post. The action takes place in her office, at night, so I had to create a dimly-lit atmosphere, while still keeping the actors visible.
‘Agency’ is very contemporary, but ‘Hope that plays a tune alone’ is set just a year or so after the end of the second world war. Kitty has lost her beloved in the war, and is struggling against grief, while the local vicar supplies a ray of hope for her future.
Her friend Elsa is much more positive and practical, while Kitty continually retreats to a fantasy world of her own.
A sad play, where the director emphasised Kitty’s loneliness by the starkness of the minimal furniture and props. I kept my lighting very simple, too.
By contrast to these two plays, ‘Match and Matrimony’ is a pastiche of a Jane Austen novel. Very funny, with a transvestite son as one of the family’s ‘daughters’, and the director himself playing four different roles – or is it five?
The lighting for this one had to be crisp and sparkling, but it also had to range from the candle-lit interior of a small cottage to a ball in the Big House, plus some exterior scenes.
In March we staged Florian Zeller’s play ‘The Father’ at New Venture, and I undertook the set and lighting design for the production. The central character is André, an elderly man suffering from dementia. We see the action through André’s eyes, which is why he can’t recognise the changing identity of the two women who seem to be his daughter Anne.
The action apparently takes place in Andre’s flat, but does it really? The final scenes are set in the antiseptic environment of a nursing home – but maybe that’s where André’s really been all along . . .
Over successive scenes, the domestic elements of André’s flat gradually disappear. We had to do the prop removal in darkness, with the audience’s perception blocked by music and dazzling light.
There were evening scenes, too, where the family ate dinner in the apartment. Later the dining table would be spirited away with the rest of the furnishings, along with Delphine du Barry’s powerful paintings.
I love creating theatre sets which aren’t static, and I’m really committed to avoiding messy, time-consuming scene changes. All of the changes in ‘The Father’, including the transformation of the sofa into the care-home bed, took place in less than fifteen seconds.