Features interview

What’s in a poster? – Interview: Martin Root

martin root

Continuing our What’s In A Poster? feature, I caught up with Root’s Creative Director and the man behind the Royal Court campaigns, Martin Root. He’s worked with the Royal Court for the last two years, creating their ‘white on white’ striking artworks including Churchill’s Escaped Alone, Crowe’s The Sewing Group and Neilson’s Unreachable.

I visited Root at his London based studio in the depths of Shoreditch. It’s an ultra-cool, New York loft-inspired space, bathed in cosy lighting and funky jazz plays. It feels very relaxed and I’m greeted with a cup of tea and chocolate cookies, and wondering when I can move in.

Vicky Featherstone had just created a frenzy with announcing the Royal Court’s super exciting Spring/Summer 2017 season, dropping hot names such as debbie tucker green, Jez Butterworth and Alice Birch. Root’s involvement starts right from the beginning. “We are given the scripts first,” he says, “and then we meet with the playwrights to discuss their initial thoughts and views.” It strikes me as a really inclusive process, not just involving Featherstone and marketing teams, but also with the playwrights themselves. “So you have all the spoilers,” I ask. He just laughs. 

The theme for the SS17 season is ‘textures’ and Root explains their purpose is to work not only individually, but also as a series, creating a cohesive brand image. He talks me through Jim Cartwright’s Road (which opens in July). “It’s set in a working men’s club up north,” says Root, “so we looked at the glittery slash curtains. It’s textural but it’s expanding on that.” Also, he mentions debbie tucker green’s a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun) that touches upon the break-up of a relationship. “We used the idea of metal and rust, and it all being eaten away.” It’s a beautiful metaphor and Root explains “it’s all about reading the script and extracting what you can from it –  take it into interesting areas.”

martin root

Root works with a team of trusted people such as photographers, model makers and artists to create his vision. In a way, his pieces are mini-installations in their own right and really reflect the creative nature of the plays themselves. “It’s too easy to use the production shots, so we try to push it further,” he says. As many of the pieces are brand new, the artwork is the first draw for audiences and they act as a story-telling tool, portraying the mood of the play and creating a sense of intrigue.

His artworks are really emotive and evocative, and he expresses that he enjoys creating artwork that people would love to have on their walls. Root studied at the London College of Printing before setting up his own company in 1990. “There were no Mac’s then,” he laughs “so you had to learn the trade and have a very hands on approach.” His tactile nature is very evident in all of his works; you only have to look at the dolls head with scribbled on beard and moustache for David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue to appreciate his playful character. Root is a designer who likes to experiment and his creations are wonderfully physical.

He works with an impressive client list including New York artists, galleries, Tokyo Bike and he also tried his hand at producing with the Brit film Svengali. But his joy at working with the Royal Court certainly shines through. “Vicky (Featherstone) really inspires me,” he says, “I really admire their passion, and it’s really infectious.” Passion is infectious, and Root certainly has it by the bucket load. As we munch on our second cookie, we chat about how cool the Royal Court bar is, their library and talent for nurturing new writing. “It is the playwright’s theatre,” he adds, and he expresses how delighted he was to work on their 60th Anniversary celebrations.

It’s unsurprising that it’s the personalities that matter when attracting him to a project. “I’m definitely drawn to the level of creativity involved,” he says, “and the people who are commissioning it.” He enjoys the meeting of minds and draws inspiration from almost everywhere. “You’ve got to get out there, walk around, visit exhibitions and galleries and immerse yourself in culture.”

This is Root’s first step into the world of theatre and his mini installations certainly embody theatricality. During our chat, I do wonder whether we might see a Root-designed stage set before long…

It’s been such an insightful and interesting afternoon into the world of creating campaigns. Before I leave, I ask him just how he created the black bubbling teacup for Churchill’s Escaped Alone? “Ooo I wonder if I should tell you,” he smiles, “I’m not disclosing any trade secrets.”

Find out more about Martin Root’s projects here.

The Royal Court’s new season is on sale now.

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