RSC – The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Rover

As expected I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Stratford-upon-avon to watch The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Rover in The Swan theatre. I like the wooden and brick interiors of The Swan that makes it interesting and I’m sure also challenging to design for. It must be a blessing to not have a gaudy facade or safety curtain to worry about as in other theatres such as Theatre Royal in Nottingham or The Lyceum in Sheffield.

I was pleasantly surprised by the first production, The Seven Acts of Mercy, as I didn’t know how they’d create a piece about the painter Caravaggio. Cleverly the production was split between Caravaggio’s workspace in Naples 1606 and the home of a liverpudlian boy and his grandad who tries to educate him about art leading the boy to follow out the seven acts of mercy. I liked the content of this play because it looked at current social and political problems in the UK such as poverty and housing shortage. The design involved a large canvas and a stepladder that created caravaggio’s workspace and as he painted images of his work were projected around the balcony area on gauze. I was sat in gallery two which will always be the short straw in my eyes as no matter how a designer tries, sitting at that level doesn’t provide a clear view to the stage and so the paintings projected were faint meaning the content of the play was less engaging during these scenes. I did however like the shabby, minimal living room that made up the Liverpool set.

I preferred watching The Rover in the evening, probably because I had a front row seat this time! The play follows the antics of three cavaliers and three women looking for love amongst the setting of a South American carnival. I really liked the costume design as in true RSC style they had merged the traditional 17th Century design with contemporary style. I particularly like the red boots, jeans and corset that the character Hellena, played by Faye Castelow, wore as I thought the modernisation supported her bold characteristics and was empowering. I also liked the use of masks which worked well for the wild, dancing carnival scenes and I especially liked the animalistic masks.

The iron-like balcony and stairs designed by Lez Brotherston allowed the performers alternative exits/entrances than the wings and has helped me to consider the space in the Swan for my own design project this term for The Beggar’s Opera.

Tonic Theatre

Tonic Theatre is an organisation that aims to achieve greater gender equality across UK theatres across all roles. I went to a talk celebrating the work of the Tonic Theatre initiative at The Sam Wanamaker Theatre in London. I didn’t quite know what to expect, it was unusual for me to enter a theatre without seeing a performance. The candles were lit and 5 chairs laid out on stage for the chair and the speakers.tonic-thetare-celebrates

  • Lucy Kerbel, Tonic Theatre’s Director and chair of the event
  • Tanika Gupta, Writer for stage, screen and radio
  • Emma Rice, Artistic Director for Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Rachel Bown-Williams, Fight director and founder of RC-Annie
  • Ruth Cooper-Brown, Fight director and founder of RC-Annie

Emma Rice talked about directing. She said that there is no prescribed way but her approach is to create a playful environment in the rehearsal room so that the actors feel safe and the space is free.

“Fear is the greatest enemy”

She has received quite a lot of criticism in the press such as being called ‘loud’ and ‘opinionated’ which she responded with “Who says that to a man, I’m doing my job”. The criticism surrounding her directing seems to be implying that being loud and opinionated is inappropriate for a woman and it is worrying that critiques are fighting that freedom of speech and gender equality that is finally coming through.

The evening was refreshingly positive. The speakers encouraged young people who are interested in the theatre industry to strive for …

  • waking up and going to a job you love
  • doing something for the love of it not money
  • getting your foot in the door early on
  • not taking everything so personally, criticism etc.

And ultimately to enjoy growing up and the experiences that come with that.

RC-Annie is a dramatic violence company established by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown in 2005 who give training and fight direction to the entertainment industry. At the Tonic Theatre event they talked about creating a safe space with boundaries, taking the gender out of the action, so that the actors feel comfortable with the fight direction that they are being taught. Scenes can be violent or so out of character for an actor that they become uncomfortable so it’s important to provide support not only health and safety but this safe atmosphere as well.

As I studied the progression of gender equality in the industry for my independent research project last year and looked closely at the work Tonic Theatre instigated across UK theatres; I found the evening insightful. It was wonderful to hear from women working in different roles within the theatre industry and above all I took away the important message that you should be confident and in particular women in theatre need to

Stop apologising.



Handmade Theatre Company

Handmade Theatre company came to perform for a class of school children at the Waverley Theatre in Nottingham. I liked their philosophy of creating theatre outside the national curriculum and for families rather than just children because it allows children to engage with their families and with something new and exciting. They toured their performance ‘Flying the nest’ about birds this summer at various locations such as parks, art centres and festivals. Although we saw the performance in and enclosed space it was interesting to see how their performance could be shown in varying location due to their versatile set design.

The performers emerged from a wooden shed and began talking and singing with the children about birding, using instruments such as the recorder and the violin. The children were sat in willow nests in a semi-circle around the shed connected to it by washing lines transporting bird food to the nests. I could imagine this set in an outdoor environment because of the organic shapes of the willow and the natural look of not only the larger items of set but also the props and costume, for example, bird wings made out of patchwork fabric. Seeing this performance has helped me to consider the importance of audience and space when creating theatre and in particular theatre that needs to tour, perhaps in non-theatrical spaces.

As the name suggests this company had a handmade feel which I preferred to other young people’s theatre that can tend to use bright, bold colours to engage a younger audience. The Handmade Theatre company immersed the audience by asking them to look after a specific bird and feed it whilst also turning into specific birds through costume, puppetry and masks. I think the work this company creates will help to develop my own speculative design project that needs to tour in a school space for 10-12 year olds.


946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

I got a flavour of the type of work Kneehigh creates from their version of The Beggar’s Opera, renamed Dead dog in a suitcase at Warwick’s art centre last year so I knew their latest production wouldn’t disappoint. I enjoyed reading Michael Morpurgo’s books as a child and I am a big advocate of Emma Rice’s directing vision so I was interested to see how they’d work together to adapt the novel into a play.

The performance was energetic and lively as expected. It’s a Kneehigh trait that the actors go that extra mile, dancing, playing instruments and using puppetry but I think this worked particularly well to engage a younger audience. The story is about a young girl living in Slapton sands, Devon during the second world war who is forced to move away from her home with her family and make way for troops meanwhile her cat Tips has gone missing. She befriends an evacuee and American troops who get enlisted in Slapton. I like how the puppets they used were different scales for example the cat and dog puppet were large whereas there was a tiny puppet of the troops in a car which was comical and let the audience use their imagination. The girl, Lily innocently pointed out the difference in her skin colour in contrast to the American troops which highlighted the era but also her acceptance. I like that kneehigh’s casting is colour blind and was also gender blind as a female played one of the troops.

I also liked how the stage design took small bits of information to represent the whole picture. Centre stage was a propellor attached to a platform to elevate the musicians and create the feeling of an aerocraft in wartime. The whole stage was made up of wooden planks in a circular form that was inspired by Cornelia Parker’s artwork ‘An exploded view’ and gave the feel of rural, farmland. My favourite design element was at the front of the stage where old, tin baths filled with water represented the sea and were used in a dramatic scene to show sinking ships at the D-day landings disaster. Small ships crashed into the tubs and set on fire whilst the action played out further upstage.

We attended an after show talk at the Birmingham Repertory where we were able to hear from the cast and director Emma Rice. It was insightful to hear about Rice’s vision of “Collective imagination” because she sees the company as an ensemble.


We had the opportunity to learn projection with Barret Hodgson, a projection mapper. He talked to is about all the different software used to create his work such as ‘Neverland’ a piece of theatre designed by Helen Davies and out on at Lakeside arts theatre. We then had a day in his studio to try out his equipment and great our own bit of projection mapping based on a moment from Hamlet.

Our group decided to explore the moment when Polonius is killed by Hamlet in Gertrude’s quarter. We started to map on to a church window in the studio. Unfortunately we couldn’t map directly onto the glass but the surrounding area at least.

I was unable to stay for the whole workshop because I was unwell but it inspired me to include a projection screen in my design for Hamlet and so I further explored projection mapping in modern productions.

I saw a production of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime’ at Sheffield Lyceum last autumn and the stage was heavily projected on all walls. The protagonist drew on the wall and the projection mapped out his route across London and constellations of stars. They also used objects that lit up from within and became something new like a microwave or a fish tank as shown below.

Considering projection made me think back to when I saw a physical theatre piece by frantic assembly called ‘Lovesong’. Not only was the physical movement wonderful but the 4 projection screens pieced together at the back fitted beautifully with the style of piece. It was about an old couple looking back on their life as a young couple and so the performance drifted between the two timezones. 

The projection above shows birds flying on a dark screen symbolising the passing of time and death as the older man looks back on his life. I think this style of projection screen that is split up and different heights.

RSC Stratford-upon-avon


sawn theatre, southwark, london 1596

The Original Swan Theatre, London, 1596.

I like the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre as both are striking spaces with thrust stages and galleries combining modernity with the traditional form of Elizabethan theatres such as The Swan Theatre in Southwark, London, 1596 .

I Watched ‘Love for Love’, A William Congreve play, in the Swan theatre from gallery two. Although the galleries allow more people to see the performance and cheaper tickets, it was uncomfortable and we had to lean right over the balcony to be able to see the whole stage and even then sight lines were obscured. So as much as I like the idea of these open spaced theatres, they don’t provide clear view of the performance.

On a positive note, It made me consider the challenges I’d face as a designer. The lighting designer spoke to us about lighting the actors so that they could still be seen in the galleries. In ‘Love for Love’ gauze was used which I liked because it’s transparent quality allowed us to see behind it. The door used was stand-alone, also allowing the audience to see behind, adding to the comical nature of the play.


Dead Dog in a Suitcase – Warwick Arts Centre

I was intrigued by the possibility to see a performance by Kneehigh because they are known for their outlandish, fast-paced style. We could see the set before the show started which I liked because it breaks the fourth wall allowing us into the character’s world. The set was like a playground with slides and levels that made it easy for the story to change from setting to setting. I like versatile set because it aids the actors rather than distracting from the action. There was no protagonist which I liked because actors would switch between characters all the time as well. They would change costume and start playing and instrument whilst something else was happening on another part of the stage. This mix of dance, physical movement, singing, instrumentals and puppetry meant there was never a dull moment on stage which is a good way to keep the audience engaged.dead dog in a suitcase