Photos by Manuel Harlan
I designed this Shakespeare ‘History’ play to be integrated into Propeller’s ‘Wars of the Roses Cycle’ (now named ‘Total Rose Rage’) of Shakespeare plays, including the disputed ‘Edward III’. This rarely undertaken project aims to develop the mid-1960s RSC serial designed by John Bury and the RSC’s ‘This England’ histories cycle for which I designed ‘Henry V’.
The production explored Richard’s obsessive, compulsive behaviour from the perspective of his internal psyche – he was ‘observed’ by the audience, as a patient in a Victorian sanatorium. I therefore created a design that enabled both stretching and condensing of stage space supporting the visual and vocal presence of the ensemble as an extension of Richard’s unstable mental state. The ensemble’s role as ‘deus ex machina’ referenced Harley Granville-Barker principals of storytelling with a collective voice and my design acknowledged Robert Edmond Jones’ monochromatic settings for Barker’s ground-breaking ‘New Stagecraft’ productions.
The design established a state of stable military rule that could materially unravel. Contemporary equivalents of the ‘Bloody Tower’ and the ‘Seat of Power’ were reinvented using industrial materials to create both a storytelling and killing machine. Designed objects of destruction were often anachronistic, for example, the assassination of political figures with a chain saw behind a slashed vinyl partition had full impact on a contemporary, international audience. I took opportunities to present memorable images of death and rebirth to ‘bookend’ each History Cycle play.
The costumes were drawn in a rigorous Victorian etched vernacular and the tonal aesthetic tightly controlled. Colour [scarlet] was used only emblematically or viscerally [blood/organs]. Rapid social climbing and descent was made visually clear through formal clothing, dramatically counterpointing violence and etiquette. Through Victorian dress, the actor’s masculinity was openly declared to the audience but feminised from the waist down: supporting the performer’s movement and gesture. Here are the designs.
See also the publication of a paper articulating my design process in ‘Shakespeare Survey 66’, the yearbook of international Shakespeare scholarship and production. The chapter is an annotated illustrated transcription of a keynote conference presentation paper made jointly by myself and Carol Chillington-Rutter (Professor of English, Warwick University) at the biennial International Shakespeare Conference 2012 convened by the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham), Stratford upon Avon.
In ‘Richard III’, (2013) Propeller Shakespeare (Oberon Books), I authored an illustrated chapter articulating the design approach and process for this production.
Michigan’s Wilde Award for Best Touring Production
Theatre Awards UK for Best Touring production
Boston’s Elliot Norton Award for Best Visiting Production and Boston IRNE Award
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