Designer Jessica Worrall on The Comedy of Errors

We caught up with The Comedy of Errors Designer, Jessica Worrall. In this Q&A Jessica told us more about her influences and process.

The Comedy of Errors sketches - photo Alex Brady.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role on The Comedy of Errors?
I'm a costume and set designer for theatre (and some film) and I've been working in both mainstream and experimental theatre for about thirty years now. I'm based in Glasgow but usually work all over the UK so it's really nice to be at home working for the Citizens as the designer on The Comedy of Errors.

What influences and inspires your design process?
I love research so this is the bit of the design process I really enjoy. I'm a bit of a magpie really so the influences for this design come from all over - club culture, contemporary fashion and Weimar Berlin in particular. Also just talking to director, Dominic Hill about how he sees the world of the play. He's a very visual director and also very sure of what he likes which is great.

What will the set for The Comedy of Errors look like?
I've woven various elements from the above influences together to create a sort of liminal world which is kind of a club that's both backstage and onstage at the same time. It's one of those places you might land up in one night and you soon realise the usual rules or what you thought were the usual rules don't apply. It's colourful and brash and playful and hedonistic.

Design influences

How did you feel about redesigning the show to be taken on tour to a range of venues from traditional theatre settings to an outdoor festival-style stage?
I've designed so many touring shows that this is really normal for me, although the differences in the venues for Comedy are a little extreme! What I found worked was to treat them almost as two separate designs so we have some bespoke design features for each space, like the balloons in the outdoor space and the slash curtain in Perth, alongside some shared visual elements such as the Ephesus sign in both. The trick really is how to be able to adapt the design to each style of space and not go over budget.

The Comedy of Errors at Beacon Arts Centre - photo Tim Morozzo

The Comedy of Errors at Live at No.40 Festival - photo Mihaela Bodlovic

How does your vision when you first read the play match-up with the result on stage? Does the rehearsal room process impact on the design?
Dominic and I were really clear on the world we wanted to create for the play so that joint vision hasn't really changed and is pretty much as we intended. The rehearsal process always throws up elements of surprise but these are generally welcome additions - like the door frame for the door routine or the fridge. I love both those elements and probably more so as I didn't think of them. It makes the world more real when it changes like that.

Theatre to me is a collaborative process so it's important that there is space for a design to grow and evolve through the rehearsal. This is the same with costume - we've tweaked and changed and completely rethought a few of the designs as a direct result of what the actors need or think, or how they are playing a part.

Character sketches by Designer Jessica Worrall

Shakespeare can be very traditional - how do you think the design of this production makes it feel modern?

I think this is more down to Dominic who has such a fresh and modern approach to Shakespeare. He understands it completely but doesn't treat it with reverence, which I love and I think I've really tried to take that attitude into the design as well. 

It's also important to me that, particularly when I'm designing a classic text, that I'm not making something trapped in time, or a historical reenactment that has no real relevance to a contemporary audience. So I hope what this design does is show how relevant and contemporary the themes in the play are. If not I'm not sure why we are still doing Shakespeare!

Have you got any favourite character designs?
Well obviously I like them all, but I think my favourites are Dr Pinch, Dromio and Adriana. I think together they encapsulate the world of the play in that they are modern and colourful and a little bit playful.

Characters Dr Pinch and Adriana with Luciana behind. Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic.

How are you taking into consideration the environmental impact of the show’s design?

This is a really important issue in theatre and indeed the world at the moment. It's also a tricky one in theatre as on one hand you want to recycle or reuse as much as possible but also as a designer you are encouraged to be innovative and distinctive. This can sometimes be harder if you are restricted to only using stuff the theatre already has. 

Also if we don't ever make anything new what happens to all those amazing skills like pattern cutting, or costume making or scene painting or carpentry etc? So I guess for me it's a question of balance. 

Wherever I can I will reuse or recycle something but I also love working with others to make something completely new.

The Comedy of Errors previewed at The Beacon in Greenock (Fri 19 – Sat 20 Aug) before returning to the site of the original 2021 production at Scottish Opera’s Production Studios in Glasgow (Fri 26 Aug – Sat 3 Sep) as part of the outdoor festival, Live at No.40.  The show will then travel to Perth Theatre (Wed 7 – Sat 17 Sep).