Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Rivals: A note from the Designer

Designer Tom Rogers discusses the development process for his beautiful design for The Rivals, our co-production with Bristol Old Vic and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse. Directed by our very own Artistic Director Dominic Hill, this 18th-century comedy of manners arrives at the Citizens Theatre in November.

When Dominic approached me to design his production of The Rivals it was immediately an exciting prospect. I knew he would bring something fresh and dynamic to this classic text whilst still retaining its heart and timeless appeal.

The Rivals arrives at Citizens Theatre 2 Nov 2016 - citz.co.uk
The Rivals at Bristol Old Vic image by Mark Doucet
Neither of us wanted to dispose of its setting in 1775. It’s very much a play about the social manners of its time, and the late 18th century is a glorious period of indulgence and frivolity to explore visually, particularly in fashion. But we also were keen to explore other design options rather than slavishly re-creating 18th-century Bath and early Georgian interiors.

The play includes many settings and the challenge was to come up with a design that could move swiftly between these, giving enough of a sense of each place but in a mostly non-naturalistic way. The play, with its many asides and broad comedy lends itself to a heightened theatrical approach and this led quite naturally to a design that relies heavily on ‘traditional’ theatre practices such as footlights, perspective portals and painted cloths.

Painted cloths have fallen out of fashion in recent times with limitless possibilities of printing images on vast scales, and theatre design in general taking what might be described as a more ‘conceptual’ approach. It has been one of the joys of this process to put this art at the forefront of the design, utilising the original paint frame of Bristol Old Vic and more importantly the skills and artistry of its resident painters. The interior settings are therefore mostly created using hand-painted cloths depicting either segments of paintings of late 18th-century Bath or enlarged fragments of wallpaper from the period.

The Rivals arrives at Citizens Theatre 2 Nov 2016 - citz.co.uk
The Rivals Tech rehearsal - images by Dominic Hill
The play has the idea of keeping up appearances at its core. This was a time of showing off and dressing up to impress. Many of the scenes of the play are actually set in dressing rooms and this gave us the idea of using costume rails filled with 18th-century clothes as both naturalistic items you might find in these interiors but also as scenic elements clearly visible just offstage and used in a more non-naturalistic way throughout the play. Clothes, therefore, play an important role in The Rivals and the recreation of these lavish late 18th century fashions has been a joy.

Overblown and extravagant, the 1770s is one of the most excessive decades of fashion with its towering wigs, huge skirts, rich fabrics and detailed embellishment. We've been very lucky again to have the amazing skills of the Bristol Costume Services workroom at our disposal. You will see have brought the designs for the women’s costumes to life in a breathtaking way from metres and metres of silk taffeta and dupion, and reams of intricately hand-stitched trimmings.

The Rivals arrives at Citizens Theatre 2 Nov 2016 - citz.co.uk
The Rivals at Bristol Old Vic image by Mark Doucet
Although our production is very much rooted in its original 18th-century setting, we have also made the decision to use a few anachronistic prop and costume elements from later periods. This has brought another level of creative possibilities to the rehearsal room and allowed for the witty use of objects that may not be from 1775 but could have been taken from the props stores of any of the wonderful theatres we are touring to. This is, again, intentionally playing to the play's innate theatricality.

2 - 19 NOV

Friday, 16 September 2016

Trainspotting: Final days in the rehearsal room

Trainspotting's Assistant Director Izzie Turner gives us a unique insight into the rehearsal process for this exciting new production of Irvine Welsh's notorious tale, adapted by Harry Gibson. 

Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk

We're in the final days of being in the rehearsal room for Trainspotting. In just a few day's time we'll be packing up our things and move into the auditorium for next week's technical rehearsals. 

The last 3 weeks of hard work are starting to come together as we piece the play into a whole and start doing full runs. Today it’s all systems go with every member of the team pitching in ideas!

Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk

We begin the day with our favourite game, 4 square- a simple, yet highly competitive ball game that always charges us up for the day ahead and has us laughing and squabbling like siblings!

Next, we start work on the scene "House Arrest". It is a demanding scene, physically and psychologically, that morphs between theatrical styles. It shifts between the domestic, the absurd and the terrifying. The scene also demands a huge amount from Lorn, who plays the principal character, Mark Renton. Despite this, it has been one of the most enjoyable scenes to work on- a true ensemble piece, with every actor involved in its creation and execution. All of us laughing all the way!

Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk

MJ- our sound designer is busy working on some brilliantly textured and nuanced sound effects. It’s intriguing to experience the text layered and punctuated by sound and music- it adds a refreshing dimension to the storytelling. 

Our movement director, EJ works her magic on the scene, using movement choreography and dance to heighten the scene’s sensuality and visualise the physical experience of drug addiction. It’s fascinating to see how a simple physical activity can be magnified and abstracted into beautiful, organic movement. 

Our wonderful director Gareth is creating and managing all of this with a calm, measured eye, making sure that everyone is included and heard. Under Gareth’s direction, the creative process has been highly inclusive and collaborative, which has made it a joy to work on.

Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk

Each day the world of the play becomes a little more fleshed out as a new prop, costume garment or piece of furniture is integrated into rehearsals. Slowly but surely the story is become a living, breathing entity. Costume changes are an integral part: There are multiple characters and only a cast of five to play them all. Gareth has ensured that these changes and transitions are done inventively and are woven into fabric of the production- instead of being a functional activity, they become part of the storytelling.

Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk

It is a privilege to work on Trainspotting. It’s a joyride of a play- equal parts hilarious, thrilling and always irreverent and provocative. The richness of the text and Gareth’s lead in guiding us through it has made the last few weeks brilliantly stimulating. Our magnificent cast - endlessly energetic and imaginative- are taking  this much-loved story to new and thrilling heights. Bring on the technical rehearsals!

14 SEP - 8 OCT