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BRITISH THEATRE DESIGN: THE MODERN AGE PART 1

WE SEEM TO be on a Brit kick, having recently celebrated BBC TV’s 50 years. Presented here at SimanaitisSays in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, tidbits from the book British Theatre Design: The Modern Age are testimony to the orderliness of my bookshelves. (It was right next to BBC TV: 50 Years.)

British Theatre Design: The Modern Age, edited by John Goodwin, foreward by Peter Hall, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1996.

The artistry of this book suggest coffee table status (do people still have coffee tables?). But it’s more than this: Sir Peter Hall, who succeeded Laurence Olivier as director of Britain’s National Theatre, wrote in the foreward, “Great stage design is visionary…. It is a world of space and of lightness; of suggestion rather than actuality; of eclecticism rather than period accuracy.”

Hall said, “A designer does more than design. He or she is the helpmate and critic of the director…. He must make the world and the suit of clothes in which the actor can live, be understood, and work on our emotions. Together they express the play.”

The book’s four categories are Dance, Plays, the Great British Musical, and Opera. Images for each genre are accompanied by comments from the designers. With three of them here, I add my views.

Berlin Requiem. Christopher Bruce’s ballet Berlin Requiem combined the music of two Kurt Weill pieces, Mahagonny and Das Berliner Requiem.

Designer Pamela Marre: “My brief was to produce a set that could change to serve two contrasting pieces…. Networks of neon lights carried the message of consumer societies for the first, and when the lights of Mahagonny disappeared, a ruined structure was left for the bleak and prophetic Requiem.” This and the following image from British Theatre Design: The Modern Age.

Berlin Requiem opened at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, on March 11, 1982. Its second part had a tour of the U.S. and Mexico that same year.

Animal Farm. Director Peter Hall adapted Animal Farm, George Orwell’s satire on Stalinism into a play with music, its target audience ranging from middle school kids to adults.

Designer Jennifer Carey: “We searched for an innocent style. A young schoolboy narrated. The animals and humans were masked; four legs were achieved with crutches; the scale of chickens was solved by wearing the whole animal on the head. The toy farm scenery moved, turned, and opened revealing new parts of the farm.”

There’s a production of this Animal Farm scheduled for December of 2020 at Toronto’s Annex Theatre.

Tomorrow, we’ll sample Great British Musicals and Opera.

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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