A Tale of Two Exhibitions

A Tale of Two Exhibitions

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

In 1979 my mum was running the art gallery at Harlow Playhouse, I was very small (but apparently not too small to be captivated by theatre models) and the UK won the Golden Triga at the Prague Quadrennial. Three and a half decades later I find myself organising a display of theatre design in the same town and meeting a new generation of young people. But we’ll have to wait until later in the year before we know about the Golden Triga.

A post-war new town, Harlow has a remarkable history of civic cultural activity; when it was founded it even had its own string quartet. Its single most notable aspect is the sculpture collection, and Harlow was recently given the official title of “Sculpture Town”. It’s even on the signs as you drive in. Harlow’s arts scene was greatly diminished in the late 80s and 90s, mainly because of rate-capping, and for a while it was without an art gallery. It also lost its iconic 1950s Town Hall, designed by the town’s master planner, Sir Frederic Gibberd. The replacement building is architecturally bland but does house a fantastic exhibition space. Continue reading

How to See a Voice: Designing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in BSL for Shakespeare’s Globe

How to See a Voice: Designing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in BSL for Shakespeare’s Globe

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Designing for deaf audiences brings very specific, practical challenges but also opens up huge new possibilities. As Deafinitely Theatre’s artistic director, Paula Garfield explains,

Deafinitely Theatre’s style is to be visual and so for me what we bring is that visual storytelling and I don’t just mean British Sign Language. I want to see the story happen visually on the stage to make it clear for any audience. That is why the design is so important as it compliments that visual storytelling element.

This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream came about as a result of the success of Deafinitely’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost for the Globe to Globe season two years ago. Deafinitely’s inclusion in Globe to Globe clearly signposts British Sign Language not just as a tool for accessibility but as a language in its own right. And what’s particularly exciting to a designer is that BSL is a visual language. Globe to Globe and Deafinitely also share a vision of productions transcending their specific languages, whether BSL, Italian or Guajarati; our production was very specifically conceived as being for a mixed deaf/hearing audience.

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A Bigger Splash: Painting after performance – a personal response

A Bigger Splash: Painting after performance – a personal response

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Visiting A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, currently at Tate Modern, is an odd experience for a theatre designer. The exhibition interrogates the relationship between performance and painting – and, in fact, other visual media – from a variety of angles, sometimes tenuously but almost always in a way that is engaging and thought-provoking. However, it does this entirely within the frame of reference of visual art. It is as if performance outside the art gallery either does not exist or is merely a cultural phenomenon to be knowingly referenced; not a major group of art-forms that have their own evolutions, their own traditions and their own avant-garde movements. Yet we, as theatre designers, are engaging with many of the same issues as the artists in the exhibition, and with no less professionalism and integrity.

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Hard Places in India: a designer’s-eye account

Hard Places in India: a designer’s-eye account

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Hard Places by Farhad Sorabjee, a Mumbai-based writer, had been previously produced in India by a remarkable company called Rage, mainly known in the UK as the Royal Court’s “go-to” for finding and supporting Indian playwrights. Hard Places was read at the Court, then picked up by Tinderbox Alley, which brought The Mercury Theatre in Colchester on board, with Rage as the Indian partner. The cast comprised two UK-based performers, Jasmina Daniel and Nabil Stuart, and one from Rage, Shernaz Patel, who is widely recognized in India, not least for her film work. This new production, directed by Chris White, was rehearsed and shown in Colchester before travelling to India.

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Visual artists as Theatre Designers: a response

Visual artists as Theatre Designers: a response

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

The original Guardian article, to which this responds, can be read here.

“Why don’t more visual artists do theatre?” This was the somewhat alarming headline introducing a Mark Lawson article in The Guardian in July. The piece itself was more nuanced. Crucially, he accepts that “stage design is clearly a form of art” and narrows “visual artists” down to “full-time painters and sculptors”. Nonetheless, there is something very fundamentally wrong with the underlying assumptions. I would argue that this is because we see ourselves not as jumped up scene painters, out of our depth in complexities of visual art, but as amphibians – operating fully in both visual and performance environments.

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Theatre in a Troubled Country: Staging Satire in Pakistan

Theatre in a Troubled Country: Staging Satire in Pakistan

(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)

Three years ago I had arrived in blazing sunshine to find a fledgling university department, just one year old, stretching its wings. It felt like an exciting time. My visit, backed by the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD), was part of a programme of events run by the Department of Theatre of The National College of Arts, Pakistan’s much respected arts university. I had been invited by Claire Pamment, a theatre director and dramaturg I’d worked with in UK, who was now resident in Pakistan and leading the effort to establish the department. My specific remit was to head a week-long seminar leading to a showcase of visual theatre. Entitled Rang, an Urdu word meaning roughly ‘colour’, this ‘performance without actors’, ranged from a tiny puppet holding the attention of the audience to a massive projection of fire filmed live on stage. The seminar, on the other hand, focused on comparing approaches, looking at the boundaries of scenography and investigating what the purely visual can ‘say’ in its own right. Another more general aim of my visit was to raise the department’s profile, engage students in a range of projects and, crucially, to bring together a group of professional artists and designers to discuss how to establish and run what would be the first public funded BA theatre degree in the country.

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