Zoe Squire: ‘Just because it’s a show for adults, it doesn’t mean it can’t have loads of tricks’

Zoe Squire Zoe Squire

Designing a children’s Christmas show is tough enough, but Zoe Squire has to make sure it can also be reused by another production for adults later in the year. She tells David Hutchison how she has struck the balance with her set for A Night Before Christmas at Salisbury Playhouse…

How much of a challenge has it been to get the set together?

This set had to serve this show, but also A Little of What You Fancy – a Victorian entertainment show for adults. So we had to find a way to create a world that could change enough to suit both stages. This set opens up, a bit like a magical advent calendar. It does loads of magic tricks that you don’t realise it can do at first. We’ve created a wall of photos: some of them are photos, some are empty frames, some are shadow screens, some you can walk through and some do other tricks. It’s quite interactive, which is nice for this age group. The actors come in and write their list for Father Christmas and you see them put it in the chimney – and then it magically goes up.

How usual is it for sets to have to double up?

It’s not common. But I’ve done sets that play on top of another set. Often I would use the design of whatever set that is to influence the direction I take. As an audience member, when you come in you have no idea that what you’re looking at isn’t entirely to do with the show you’re watching. Sometimes I see shows that completely jar – the set looks as if it has just been stuck on a stage. Then you feel as if you’re watching a second-class show. The challenge here was that the two shows are so different. With the show for an adult audience, I wanted to keep it really fun and playful as well. Just because it’s a show for adults, it doesn’t mean it can’t have loads of tricks.

Are audiences increasingly hungry to see big stage effects and spectacle?

In the West End they’ve got lots of money thrown at them and they can do lots of razzle-dazzle. Being able to create a quality like that on a smaller scale that still surprises your audience – that’s your challenge. Rather than lots and lots of effects, it’s about being particular about which ones work. This age group’s brilliant for that, because they’re sponges. They love it. They’ll absorb anything, and don’t question it in the same way as adults.

What advice would you give to a designer starting out in the industry?

I would say do a bit of building or workshop work or construction so you really understand what you’re asking people to do when you design a set. But also I think having some knowledge yourself means that you can get more out of things, because you know how they work.

CV: Zoe Squire

Training: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (2008)
First professional role: Designer, Ernest and the Pale Moon, Pleasance Courtyard (2009)
Agent: None

The Night Before Christmas runs at the Salberg, Salisbury Playhouse until December 31; A Little of What You Fancy runs at the same venue from December 20 to January 21