Designing Theatre: The Comedy of Errors


‘I’m Bunny Christie and I’m a designer
of set and costumes in theatre. ‘So when you go and see a show
in the theatre, every single thing ‘that you see on the stage
has been chosen by the designer ‘or picked by somebody on the design team. ‘So we’re looking after
the whole look of the piece.’ When I first get a script,
when I’m first working on a piece, I do a kind of a grid in my sketchbook, and I go through the script,
and I’m very sort of methodical, and I write down every single scene,
who’s in that scene, what time of day is it, what’s the month or the time of year,
what’s happening in that scene, ‘and then any sort of special notes on it, ‘like if there’s something particular
that happens, like… ‘I don’t know, that somebody falls over ‘or that somebody has to come in
through a door.’ Then you’ll kind of spin off
in several different directions. So I might come back to them
with maybe three different ideas of how a production could go. And I’m looking at films
that I’ve seen or photographs. I just collect lots and lots of images
of different ideas. And we’re just trying to get a kind of
visual language that we both like. Then I can go away
and hone down and develop. ‘Most theatres of course
aren’t like the National Theatre, ‘because you don’t have the resources and
the financial backing and you do have to’ often be more imaginative, maybe, or be more creative
with limited resources. And that’s… that can be really fun. I remember on Comedy, Dominic spoke to me about the look and the feel
of the production. He wanted something
that was really vibrant, so I had lots of images of nice kind of
cranes and containers, and we worked for a while,
actually, on the idea of it all being set in those…
like in a container terminal. And then Dominic came back and said, “No, I really think it needs to be
in the centre of the city.” And it should feel… In London,
it would feel like you’re in Soho. Some designers do quite a lot of drawing, so they’ll maybe be doing lots and lots of
sketches and drawing. I tend not to do that.
I quite quickly go to the model stage, because we build scale models of our sets,
like architects do, in a way, really. So I’m quite quickly, then,
working in the model box. And then we do
what we call a white card model, and that’s literally what it is –
it’s a model made of white card and it shows exactly the layout and we can change it really quickly,
because it hasn’t got any detail on it. So if we suddenly want an extra door
in something or we want to make something…
push something further off or make something taller, we can make
those alterations quite quickly. This is the finished model
of Comedy of Errors. And so this is all built to scale. We work in 1 to 25. And at the top of the show, we were in… in the docks and then in a storm. So we were in this kind of
scaffolding world – a really dark, grimy, oily world. We had lots of these ladders
and it all looked like scaffolding and we had chains hanging off stuff and people up on all of these levels. ‘In the Olivier,
it’s a really big theatre’ and it was great to be able to get people
two storeys up, ‘hanging over, yelling down.
There was people all over, dotted around.’ These could shut, and then these
were able to kind of swivel. And then you were able to go into a… into a kind of world of… of streets and alleys. So you’ve got a kind of a shop front here and then you’ve got an alleyway
with stairs going up to somewhere above. You could have people
hanging out of these windows. Lots of people really love models, because
they look like kind of doll’s houses and they really, really like them. And they are really lovely, but actually,
they’re just a tool for us. They’re absolutely
just so we’ve all agreed that that’s exactly what
it’s going to look like. So we know the blue door is that blue
and not another blue and that the finish of that wall
is exactly like that and we’re not imagining
something different. [♪ Mad World] (AUDIENCE APPLAUDS) ‘It’s the world of theatre.
We’re not in a world of reality. ‘We’re somewhere other,’ and the audience turns up
and we all agree to suspend our disbelief. We know what we’re looking at isn’t real, but we are going to invest in it
for the evening as being real. It’s really, really different
from watching a movie, which is generally in world of reality
and naturalism. And theatre’s not like that. Theatre, we can do magic. Subtitles by Stagetext

3 comments

  • Theo Chen

    Fantastic!

    Reply
  • Julian Amrine

    1:39 You said it! some of the best set designers I know can operate on a very small budget.

    Reply
  • ArnoldVeeman

    Brilliant design and I really prefer this steampunk-postmodernist-dystopian look. Wonderful. Greetings from amusic composer from The Netherlands 🙂

    Reply

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