Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Theatre Column: The Set Designer

It is not a set
designer’s favourite play, the one with nineteen scenes in nineteen different
locations, but at least Spring Awakening does it with a sense
of irony.

For once you reach that nineteenth scene, and you think you have
encountered the worst of the stage directions, you are hit with the fruitiest
and most ludicrous of them all: Moritz Stiefel, with his
head under his arm, comes stamping across the graves.


I suppose that is
just one of many reasons why Spring Awakening is rarely
tackled either in professional or amateur theatre. With a cast of 37 characters
it is something of a behemoth of a play.


And then there is the content: teenage
rape, abortion and suicide. If that has semi-raised an internal eyebrow
somewhere on your mother’s side, it is quite astonishing to think the play was
written well over a hundred years ago.


Back in the 1890s,
they did not have the technology available to us now to bring the different
scenes to life. Our current idea for creating these different locations is
to leave the stage as a blank canvas, and suggest the different spaces with
careful lighting and suggestive pieces of flown physical set.

Without the need
to lug hulking great flats on and off, we hope the scene changes will be much
more fluid and add an ethereal quality to the vivid world these children


As for poor Moritz
and his disembodied head, that is very much a work in progress. As a Member of
the Magic Circle, I had tried to design an illusion that would enable us to
have a truly decapitated boy, carrying his talking head under his arm. But for
that detail, we would have had to sacrifice the stomping across the graves.


looks like we will end up resorting to old fashioned methods after all: the
willing suspension of disbelief. Something I have learnt from this project is
that it is all too easy to let technology get in the way and all that really
counts is the relationships between characters, the essence of our theatre.


We are still a way
off achieving all that and for the next three weeks, this is where our
attention lies. Between now and opening night, let us hope there are not too
many times when we would all sooner exit pursued by a bear.

Support student journalism

Student journalism does not come cheap. Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles