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The Creative Hub, The Storey Meeting House Lane Lancaster, LA1 1TH

‘Those savage and enduring scenes’ – How we designed Frankenstein

7th February 2024 by Lauren Randall

By Simon Wainwright, Co-Artistic Director of imitating the dog

It’s fair to say that our “process” for designing and creating shows is unusual, especially in this country. We have found ourselves presenting and touring work in the middle scale where shows are, more often than not, rehearsed in a rehearsal room before adding all the separate technical elements in the frantic scramble of a “tech week”. The months of planning and designing all coming together in the final few days in a theatre space as the design, lighting, video and sound are added to the acting work. We’ve never worked like that and I’m not sure we ever could. For us it’s vital to have all the elements we use to make the show in the room from day one.

Actress Georgia-Mae Myers in rehearsal. Photo by Ed Waring.

In our process it’s almost impossible to imagine rehearsing the actors off set. Or without the video. Or the sound. Our work uses all the elements at our disposal to create meaning, to carve out the imagery and soul of the piece. We’ve never been good at imagining one bit without the other, of elevating the text above the design or the performer above the sound. It’s a collage. It’s a sculpture. It’s more akin to carving something out of marble…or fog…than it is to illustrating a rigid text. In fact, many times we’ve entered the theatre without a finished text. 

Because it’s in the crashing together of these elements, the play between disciplines and mediums that we find meaning. It is within the shared exploration of an idea that we find our moments, that we create the world we imagine can best tell our story.

Design sketch by Hayley Grindle.

Hayley says: We aimed to create a space that would allow us to be playful, flexible and allow room for new ideas. It needed to represent a contemporary flat, but also be able to conjure a laboratory, a birthing room, and create a sense of travel and transport us to Arctic landscapes.  
We really wanted to create a space that could come alive and create bursts of energy and life – that felt like it had a surge of electricity moving through its veins. A space that can create storms and conduct energy that hopefully add to the emotional landscape of this production. 
In a sense, the set design is a tool kit that we started out with at the beginning of rehearsals. It has been an essential device in helping us navigate the storytelling of our version of Frankenstein. It has morphed and transformed along the way – it still is as we are finding our language and how we use all these items our instincts initially lead us to. We try things out, try again, maybe lose something or discover something entirely new, all whilst remaining playful and creative and moving forward as a team. Team is the word here. No element of the show exists without each other. I am new to ITD and It’s been a joy to work in this way. It’s a room full of trust, imagination, pure graft, and there is a lot of laughter too.

We’re a collection of makers who are all trying to tell the same story using varied tools. And so it’s messy and unpredictable. We start at the start on day one and carve away until we have a show on the first night. We don’t block it out and fill in the detail later. It’s all detail. It’s all important. It’s a room full of people trying to paint a single painting. It’s painstaking, sometimes joyous and sometimes disappointing but we love it. We love it. 

So how do we design a show? Turn up on day one with the tools of your trade and a few good starting ideas, roll up your sleeves and start chipping away. And talk. Lots and lots of talking.

Simon Wainwright, James Hamilton, Andrew Crofts and a lot of technology! Photo by Ed Waring.

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