Many of the British representatives are relatively mainstream, but none the less impressive for that: they include Es Devlin, who designed the Union Jack floor for the Olympic closing ceremony (and whose name should have been honoured alongside director Kim Gavin’s); Hildegard Bechtler, Jean-Marc Puissant, Isabella Bywater, Johan Engels and Leslie Travers, who contribute richly textured and evocative designs for opera; and Tom Piper and Michael Pavelka, who do the same for Shakespeare. Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph
What were you exploring in your approach to this piece of work?
“The production explored Richard’s obsessive, compulsive behaviour from the perspective of his internal psyche – he was ‘observed’ by the audience as a patient might be in a Victorian sanatorium. I created a design that enabled both stretching and condensing of stage space to support the ensemble as an extension of Richard’s unstable mental state.“
What influences and inspirations have contributed to it?
“I am inspired by the people I work with – in this case the Propeller creative team, technicians and performers. The ensemble’s central role as ‘deus ex machina’ in ‘Richard III’ referenced Harley Granville-Barker’s principles of storytelling with a collective voice and my design acknowledged Robert Edmond Jones’ monochromatic settings for Barker’s ground-breaking ‘New Stagecraft’ productions. The costume design for actor Richard Clothier’s Gloucester started with a telephone conversation. Richard: “He’s a fiddler crab.” Me: “OK(!) …. a Crab… really?” Richard: “Don’t think ‘crab’ as a creature, think ‘crab’ as ‘structure’: ‘asymmetry’.” Other ideas went into the mix – like Murnau’s Nosferatu. Richard also had this superb idea for the deformed hand: a sort of a mechanical stump into which he could fix weapons but that could also be interchangeable… one minute a sickle and the next minute, he would pull a posy of flowers from it.”
Tell us a little about your working process. How much do you draw, work with models or other 3D methods, and/or work digitally?
“I change my methods depending how I feel and what I think about each project. To be honest, I get bored with my own processes quite quickly so I’m always looking for an opportunity to change means or materials. I do rely on pencil and paper a great deal – they are my ‘desert island’ objects. I am linking that direct technology with digital processes more and more, however to have full impact on those I work with and incorporate their responses. ‘Richard III’ is an example of that and in this sense I regard my role as ‘director of design’.”
Are you aware of a political, social or international context to your work? If so, how does this affect or contribute to it?
“The design suggested a state of stable military rule that could materially unravel. A contemporary equivalent of the ‘Bloody Tower’ and the ‘Seat of Power’ was invented using industrial materials to create both a storytelling and killing machine. I took opportunities to present memorable images of death and rebirth to ‘bookend’ each play in our History cycle – I hoped that these communicated across cultures although I try to never take this for granted. At Propeller post-show talkbacks, it’s fascinating to discover how the audience has ‘read’ the design and related aspects of it to their own context: particularly the big topics that Shakespeare explores with such humanity. Universality can be the death of the theatrical image.”
Why is taking part in WSD important/of interest to you?
“It’s fascinating to represent, along with so many talented artists, a theatrical vision of now. When we look back at our discipline over the last thirty to forty years, we can detect waves of interest, preoccupations and fads. I want to be able to look back at this from the future and place myself firmly in the present.”