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Meet the artists representing the UK at Prague Quadrennial design festival

Clockwise from top: Black Men Walking, Angels in America, Pinter at the Pinter and Misty
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The Society of British Theatre Design has chosen some of the UK’s top theatre designers to showcase their work at international design festival the Prague Quadrennial. Nick Clark looks at who they are and what they’ve worked on


This June sees the latest iteration of the Prague Quadrennial, an international event that aims to bring together the best of performance design, scenography and theatre architecture from around the world every four years. To celebrate the diversity of performance design in the UK, the Society of British Theatre Design has selected some of the most exciting artists working today to exhibit in a show called Staging Places: UK Design for Performance 2015-2019. The selection includes a range of designers from early career to those who are more established and represents a mix of design creation, realisation and lead work. The SBTD also wanted to show the impact of performance design on communities, as well as work made with international partners. These are the designers selected and the shows they submitted…

Alexander Rigg

Production: Sea Hames (touring, 2017 onwards);
Orographic (touring, 2018 onwards)
Rigg, who runs Scottish performance company Oceanallover, has been creating live events, across many disciplines, since 1982. He has designed set, costumes and choreography for companies including NVA, Theatre Cryptic, Theatre Babel and Process 10:28. “I believe art should be uncompromising and bold,” he says. He built the wicker man for the Wickerman Music Festival in Galloway and delivered Sea Hames “in all  its musical exuberance and costumed glory”, according to the Herald.

Bellmouth Papercone Crawick Multiverse (2015). Photo: Fiona Willoughby

Becky Minto

Becky Minto

Productions: The 306: Dawn (Dalcrue Farm, Perth, 2016); Crude (Shed 36 in the Port of Dundee, 2016); Out of this World (Macroberts Arts Centre, Stirling, 2017)
Scotland-based Minto – a set and costume designer – has worked across a range of productions for main houses, touring shows, aerial work, dance, site-specific and outdoor events. She trained in theatre design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and has worked on more than 100 productions in the UK and across Europe – including for National Theatre Scotland, Royal Lyceum, Dundee Rep, the Citizens Theatre and Traverse Theatre. In 2017, she won the silver medal for space design for NTS production The 306: Dawn at the World Stage Design Exhibition in Taipei. Her site-specific work is designed “to feel that nowhere else could this piece of theatre be told,” she says.

Chairs Flying

David Farley

Production: Flood (Hull, 2017)
Just over a decade ago, Farley won an Olivier for his design – with Timothy Bird – for Sunday in the Park With George, and was Tony-nominated upon its transfer to Broadway. He has continued to be prolific in the West End – designing shows including A Comedy About a Bank Robbery, McQueen and A Little Night Music and around the UK. For the Prague Quadrennial, he submitted Flood, a Slung Low production in Hull during its year as UK City of Culture in 2017. The year-long, four-part, multimedia show was extraordinary, with The Stage describing the performance at Victoria Dock as “visually stunning”.

Ian MacNeil

Production: Angels in America (National Theatre, 2017, the Neil Simon Theater, New York, 2018)
It is a testament to MacNeil’s design that more than two decades after An Inspector Calls opened at the National, the still-touring production remains fresh. He is working on a revival of Top Girls at the NT. He has built an extraordinary body of work including at London’s Royal Court, the Young Vic, the Almeida and the West End for shows including Billy Elliot, which won a Tony when it transferred. For the Quadrennial, he submitted his design for Angels in America.

Angels in America

Jamie Vartan

Productions: Have Your Circumstances Changed (Disused department store in Archway, London, 2015); The Second Violinist (Barbican, 2017)
Vartan has represented the UK at a number of Prague Quadrennials. The Central St Martins-trained designer has worked across theatre, opera and dance in the UK and Europe. He has regularly collaborated with writer-director Enda Walsh on shows including Ballyturk, Misterman, The Second Violinist and Grief is the Thing With Feathers. He talks about creating “still lives of modern living with extreme close-up scrutiny of detail in the context of epic surroundings”.

Jamie Vartan’s The Second Violinist

Laura Ann Price

Production: Talking Heads (West Yorkshire Playhouse – now Leeds Playhouse, 2018)
For Price, her work “operates as a bridge between art and theatre… and creates visual landscapes echoing the quirks in life, giving life to spaces in worlds apart from our own”. The designer, who holds a master’s degree in scenography from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, has recently worked on Dinner 18:55 at Leeds Playhouse and Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads at the same venue in 2018.

Laura Ann Price’s Talking Heads

Leslie Travers

Productions: Francesca da Rimini (La Scala, Milan, 2018); Elysium (Norwegian Opera, 2017);
Death of a Salesman (Manchester Royal Exchange, 2018)
Travers talks about the importance of field trips in his work “as it’s easier to focus on the themes of the piece and find the core essence of the work”. This was certainly true of Francesca da Rimini for La Scala, where the Lake Garda home of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio provided the basis of his design. Travers, who studied at the Wimbledon College of Arts, works extensively across opera, dance, musical and drama productions on both sides of the Atlantic, and his designs have appeared on the world’s most prestigious stages. He has been hailed for his “richly textured and evocative designs”.

Elysium (2016)

Nina Dunn and Lucy Osborne

Nina Dunn. Photo: Rah Petherbridge
Lucy Osborne

Production: The Assassination of Katie Hopkins (Theatr Clwyd, 2018)
Osborne and Dunn were the creatives behind the visually inventive new musical The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, with Osborne designing and Dunn behind the video. The latter, whose projection and video work is in the recently opened 9 to 5 at the Savoy Theatre, says: “I am interested in how we present narratives in a visual way.” Osborne is co-designer of Paines Plough’s Roundabout – the world’s first flat-pack theatre. She is founding partner of Studio Three Sixty, which designs temporary spaces for performance and is a consultant for Charcoalblue. Trained at the now-defunct Motley Theatre Design Course, her work includes Rutherford and Son at the Sheffield Crucible, Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse and A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer at the National Theatre. 

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins

Rajha Shakiry

Rajha Shakiry

Productions: The Mountaintop (Young Vic, 2016); Misty (Bush Theatre and Trafalgar Studios, 2018); Nine Night (National Theatre and Trafalgar Studios, 2018)
“The work I am most proud of has always been as a result of a continued and fluid conversation with the piece,” says Shakiry. “Being able to let go of ideas is as important as realising them.” The designer was born in Baghdad before moving to the UK. “The experience has undoubtedly had a massive effect on my practice and the context of my work. My outlook and interpretation reflects my underlying understanding of being the exile, immigrant, migrant, refugee, the other.” After studying maths she retrained in theatre design at Wimbledon College of Arts. She has designed for the National, Young Vic and in the West End, as well as in Southern Africa and the Middle East.

Shizuka Hariu

Productions: Solid Traces (Charleroi Danses, Studio Space, 2015) Dystopian Dream (Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Théâtre de la Ville- Paris and Sadler’s Wells, 2017)
Hariu, who won the bronze medal at the World Stage Design in 2017, says her designs – a mix between scenography and architecture – interact with the dancers’ movements and the choreographers’ concepts. Her stage productions include Medea at the Bristol Old Vic and No Body at Sadler’s Wells. She is co-director of SHSH Architecture + Scenography. “I hope that my involvement in each production is breaking the boundary between West and East,” she says.

Dystopian Dream, London

Simon Kenny

Simon Kenny

Production: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tooting Arts Club, West End and New York, 2017); Border Force (Camden Centre, 2015); Black Men Walking (UK tour, 2018)
The designer of the acclaimed pie-shop production of Sweeney Todd, which started in Tooting, London and ended in New York, Kenny has built an impressive CV across theatre and opera. The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama-trained designer has worked on Noughts and Crosses, which is currently touring, as well as Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe. At Nevill Holt Opera he designed Le Nozze di Figaro.

Black Men Walking

Soutra Gilmour

Soutra Gilmour

Production: Pinter at the Pinter (Harold Pinter Theatre, 2018)
Evening Standard Award-winning designer Gilmour has a stunning body of work – from Turn of the Screw at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to Twelfth Night at the National, as well as Strictly Ballroom, Richard III and Macbeth in the West End. One of the most impressive feats has been the Pinter at the Pinter season. As the sole designer on a run that had seven productions, five directors and 47 actors, Gilmour’s work was the “linchpin of not only the aesthetic, but the practical and financial workings,” she says. “It was the ultimate challenge in connecting the dots.”

Pinter at the Pinter

The Prague Quadrennial takes place from June 6-16 at Prague Exhibition Grounds. Go to pq.cz for more details

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