“We’re building the set at the moment, at the producer’s house, and it’s currently 150 metres of black pipe that we’re spray painting and then cutting and putting together. It’s bizarre, it’s weird – I hope it can look okay!” Director Cai Jauncey is describing their vision for Doctor Faustus and the work that has gone into its set so far. “The O’Reilly is kind of a big, blocky, concrete-y space, and we’re keeping it that way, which I’m quite excited to do, because a lot of the shows that I’ve worked on before are very elaborately staged,” they explain.
The concept for Faustus, by contrast, is grungy, industrial and relatively minimalistic. “You’re actually gonna see it as the O’Reilly Theatre without anything on it; we’re not hiding any of the lights or anything. I’m quite interested in playing with the space that we have.”
There aren’t many set designers left in Oxford – only a handful of people do it consistently – and their approaches vary. “What was really cool getting involved with Phantom last term was seeing all the TAFF guys who are going out now taking this huge elaborate thing and somehow making it work. At the same time I’ve seen people do very minimal but also very interesting things with set: I was assistant stage manager for His Dark Materials Part II last year, which was basically a lot of wood frames with some canvas over them, and that was so versatile.” That freedom is appealing, though the pressure is great. “I think it’s something people are a little bit scared to go into as well because everybody depends on the set – the lighting, the actors, and with Faustus the dancing is very much dependent on where the set goes.”
Still, everything comes together in the end. “The drama scene is kind of weird in that it’s really big – we’re probably one of the biggest drama scenes in British unis – but everybody knows each other, so you always have something like, ‘Oh, what about that person, they’re on that show,’ and you can always pull people in, and everyone’s willing to help out, which is really, really nice.” The Faustus team also started set construction early, which Cai cites as an advantage. “However, it also does mean that it’s taken over your life,” they admit wryly. “Because we started so early it’s an ever-present thing.”
Although translating a strong directorial vision into something that both works in practice and is compatible with the ideas of other members of the team is not without its challenges, they find the process rewarding. “It’s quite fun to work with what other people want to do, and how other people see things can inspire you to want to do something different.”