Make Believe


Make/Believe – UK Design for Performance

For my research I have chosen the following two productions from the “Make/Believe” exhibition:

Romeo and Juliet: Set design – Roma Patel

I was initially attracted to this piece by its intriguing use of doorways, combined with the creative use of lighting. As with any stage production, lighting plays a crucial role, adds atmosphere and helps to convey the feelings and emotions of the performance being acted out. However, with the introduction of numerous doorways (or windows), further opportunities for imaginative lighting become possible.

The set designer’s thinking behind the use of such a “neutral setting” was to convey a sense of the plays timelessness (not specific to any era) and its universal appeal. The white environment creates an almost laboratory type setting, where the actors appear to be the subjects in a human behavioural experiment, with the characters feelings and emotions adding colour to their otherwise stark surroundings. Additional colour, provided by the lighting, further adds to the feelings and emotions conveyed by the actors on stage.

The doorways constantly surrounding the characters only seem to reinforce the ‘human experiment’ idea, appearing to offer them choices as to which path to take or avoid. Additionally, the doorways (or windows) are open, not closed, which in turn could lead to a feeling of anxiety for both the audience and characters alike, as a further reinforcement of the idea of being observed.

The set, as a whole, has a rigid and inflexible quality, the exact opposite of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship – a thing of beauty and rebelliousness. In addition, there is a prison-like quality to the set, with each doorway leading to a cell. This could be symbolic of both main characters being under the control of their parents and prisoners of their own situation. My only criticism of the set is that, at times, the stark contrast between the white surfaces of the walls and the solid black doorways, creates an effect whereby the doorways become a distraction to the story being acted out on stage.

Additional elements used throughout the performance such as, projections on vertical surfaces, climbing and jumping on platforms, live fire and the use of “declarations of love” depicted as falling leaves from a tree only serve to enhance the audiences experience of, and participation in, the production.


Othello: Set design – Robin Don

The environment on stage portrays a present day Combat Unit in an overseas location. From the outset, the one element that excited me most about this particular set design, was the radar screen projection. I was also intrigued as to how this particular style of set related to the story of Othello.

I just loved this gritty and harsh environment, with its dynamic acting areas. The whole set conveys a sense of action, danger and death – all of which occur in the play. Towering above it all, the huge radar screen acts like a central nervous system, relaying all of the emotions present on stage through a single projection.

This one ‘moving’ element, combined with a stationary set, enables to the audience to be transported to other locations or events – an illusion which would be difficult to otherwise accomplish, such as having a real helicopter land safely on the set.

As part of the play, the radar screen also charts the destruction of the enemy fleet; similarly this could also be symbolic of the internal destruction of the play’s characters: Othello’s decent into mad jealousy, Desdemona’s heartbreak and Iago’s decent into lunacy. However, despite the radars effectiveness to convey otherwise impossible on-stage events, it could, I suppose, be criticised for creating a huge distraction to the action happening elsewhere on stage.






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