Stage sets are certainly getting slicker, more spectacular and grander (Rice-gate not included) as worlds are created and transformed in front of our eyes. They create atmospheres and are the veins for any production to live and breathe.
Theatre designers have hugely upped the ante, and as the Tom Scutts and Es Devlins reap the rewards for their magnificent creations, I wondered who are the designers behind the artwork we see on posters and programmes. They are the appetite wetters, giving us a taster of what we are to expect before we are inducted into the theatrical magic. They say never judge a book by its cover, but the artwork offers a mood and an essence, that can intrigue and inspire us to see a production.
Designers are currently rocking the way with bold, eye-catching, striking concepts and I caught up with a few who were stopping me in my tracks on the tube, in the street and on pages.
The super cool, fashion photographer Miles Aldridge has been pulled in to create the fizzing, colour-popping smashers for The Almeida’s 2016-2017 season. They’re simple shots, but brilliantly capture the solemnity of the productions, uncrowded by props or artworky gimmicks.
Anne-Marie Duff sits in a neon-tastic kitchen, in dowdy Victorian dress for Ella Hickson’s Oil, highlighting the decade transitions in her latest play. It’s super kitsch with a dead chicken laying on a Formica table, with an almond milk, sugar-free, kale smoothie (… perhaps) exploding in the background. He’s a man at the top of his game, and his images reflect his renowned Hitchcock-edge, wonderfully moody to stunning effect.
The Royal Shakespeare Company have adopted a sculptural approach for their latest season. Their artwork is created by their talented in-house Visual Communications team who have adapted existing shots from artist/sculptors to form the basis of their latest work. The molten human sculpture for Julius Caesar was created by Irish artist Kevin Francis Gray for his New York exhibition in 2012. The solitary figure sits veiled and appears to drip with fabric, appearing sombre and contemplative, which is heightened by the shrouded face.
I equally adore the bloodied figure for Titus Andronicus. The image was taken of a public sculpture in a park and enhanced by the RSC’s VisComms team. They told me that the decision to use existing images or create new ones depends on the project or the life cycle of the show, but you’ll agree the result is pretty striking.
Another favourite is the work by designer Rebecca Pitt. She has collaborated with Found111 to produce the artwork for their latest season including Unfaithful and Fool For Love. There is an urban essence and an edginess to her concepts that perfectly suits the space of Found111. The hazy midnight hues of Fool for Love are beautifully atmospheric with the pop of coloured light, highlighting the dark passion of the production.
She regularly teams up with photographers such as Darren Bell, Nick Rutter and Richard Davenport to help realise her vision, and she has an enviable portfolio of work including Lunch and the Bow of Ulysses, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and the forthcoming production of The Kite Runner. Keep an eye out for an upcoming interview with Rebecca about her inspirations, how projects begin and working with lots and lots of Smarities – yes she did get to keep them all.
I finally come to the work of Martin Root, the man behind the Royal Court campaigns. Not just a designer, Root recently produced the film Svengali starring Martin Freeman, Vicky McClure and Maxine Peake, proving himself to be a true creative genius and visionary.
His work for the Royal Court are greyscale and minimalist. The Sewing Group features an unravelling ball of thread and Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone focuses on a bubbling cuppa of thick black liquid. It’s simple but nonetheless arresting. There’s a darkness to his work, a simmering threat beneath the surface. With the launch of the hot new season and stream of exciting productions, we take a look at the man in the studio in an upcoming feature with Martin – so stay tuned.
Over the next few weeks there will be several features celebrating the work of theatrical graphic designers. Highlighting the visionaries behind the scenes and their spectacular concepts for productions that inspire us and excite. The unsung artists.