Talk a little bit about your vision for the design of this production?
The main thrust for our interpretation comes from the idea of the film studio as dream factory: film makes our passions and desires, fantasies and nightmares real in front of us. It is a very accessible metaphor for this play.
Going deeper, the tempestuous relationship of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor became our focus; the on-screen relationship of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in Cleopatra (1961) draws parallels with Theseus and Hippolyta. Similarly there are echoes of Titania and Oberon in the relationship between George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor) in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where the bickering couple tussle over their imaginary child (a strong foundation for the much desired 'changeling boy' in the Dream).
The set very much follows this world. It's a film set! But the transition into the 'wood' is more a journey into the creative process of a film director - disjointed images, disassembled structures and nightmarish visions all serve as strong visual metaphors for a man trying to piece together a motion picture.
What are the challenges of designing a Shakespeare play?
Often Shakespeare doesn't allow you to be as bold and adventurous as you'd like to be with your ideas. The instinct is often to rein it in and approach the text giving it an almost ‘royal status’. The biggest challenge is learning how to curb this whilst staying true to the emotional integrity of the writing.
How does your design process change, working with different directors?
Some directors have a very strong visual identity and the job is to serve that, others haven't... and that's harder because although it gives you greater freedom as a designer, you need to be able to have a constructive dialogue or the relationship fails.
One trait that seems to unite most directors, whether they are visual or not, is that they tend to offer solutions rather than express the problem - for example, "this object should be a big and pink with horns" rather than "this isn't ostentatious enough". It's the designer’s job to distinguish between an offered solution and an offered problem. They are very different things.
Who are your influences as a designer?
Dan Flavin, Mike Nelson and Francis Bacon are my three most frequently referenced artists. I am a huge admirer of religious architecture and paintings - I think theatre is very closely linked to religion.
I am also a big fan of the mundane: shipping crates, backstage, storage boxes... There's great beauty to be found in the many 'non places' we find ourselves in - train stations, airport lounges, hospital waiting rooms, dressing rooms - you just have to look hard for it!
What three works of art (books, paintings, films – anything!) would you take to a desert island?
The Descent From the Cross by Rubens, Symphony No. 3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs by Gorecki, and right at the moment - I'd have to take my Mad Men box set to keep me occupied!