Monday, 24 October 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest & Travesties

Travesties By Tom Stoppard &
The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde

I feel very privileged, that I was given the opportunity by a dear friend of mine last week, to watch two shows backstage, at The Birmingham Old Rep Theatre. He introduced me to all of the cast and showed me how the set for both shows was constructed.
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The beauty of this set was that the same set was used for both productions.
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I arrived into Birmingham at approximately 1:30pm and was quickly whisked off to the theatre for the first showing of the day, The Importance of Being Earnest. As I approached the Old Rep stage door, I was taken inside and introduced to the Company Stage Manager, the Deputy Stage Manager and the Assistant Stage Manager. They all welcomed me in and my friend, Tom took me onto the stage. As I turned to my right, I was in ore, in that moment I could see why actors/actresses adore facing out into the crowd. It was clear that the theatre is celebrating it's 100 year anniversary next year. It had aged beautifully, a Proscenium Stage, and the seats, red velvet seats, all leaning in over me as they were so steep, stacked over each other.
Tom took me round the set and showed me how it was constructed. It was square in shape with book shelves constructing the three walls, they went from the floor, rising up very high so they disappeared into darkness at the top. On either side of the stage 3 revolving book shelves had been constructed to allow access for the cast, and to create depth on the set. They could shut to make a closed room with book shelves, or turn 90 degrees to create 'aisles' of books, where the cast would enter and leave.
The colours used in the set were stunning, painted in beautiful colours, mauves, delicate pinks and golden creams. So the props and costumes of the actors/actresses, looked amazing against the set as they were ranging from burnt oranges, auburns and emerald greens.
I was sat off-stage right next to the Deputy Stage Manager who was readin
g SX and LX cues.
The show was really well executed and writings from Oscar Wilde were acted out wonderfully and complimented the impressive set.
One part of the set which excited me was the huge, oversized letter and rose which were flown in (by Tom) over the set. This abstract feel is something I aim for in designing sets. It adds 'Spectacle' to the set which the audience love and hope to see, and don't expect.
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After a spot of lunch, I watched as the crew set up for Travesties , The bookshelves became aisles to create a library. The furniture had swapped around, and I realised that Travesties used a huge letter in their set as well, another one, addressed differently. This had created a marvellous link between both shows.
Travesties was rather special, it is a play based in World War I in Zurich. It is shown through the memory of Henry Carr (Consular official). There was a spectacular seen when he reflected on the DADA Movement. A shelf at the back of the stage (behind gauze) moved off stage to reveal a huge DADA piece, and the actors were quickly dressed in amazing cardboard DADA pieces, very similar to this gentleman:

However, in Travesties, their cardboard costumes were bright reds, which matched the shining, red 'DADA' words on the back of the stage. The pale set allowed bright red lights to illuminate the stage so differently, so the set it self looked completely different. The sudden dramatic change into the 'DADA' scene, was fantastic, and made an impact, very much like the actual artistic movement.
The use of gauze in the set allowed different atmospheres to be created by lighting. It had a very authentic feel and added depth and perspective into the set. I've always been a huge fan of gauze so seeing a lot of gauze being used in one set was fantastic.

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