SPONSORED POST: Set designers don’t get much recognition from the audience. Yet the stage is essential for viewers to be teleported into another world. Over the years, some set designers have unleashed their creativity and captured the attention of critics and audiences alike. Here’s a look back at some of the best set designers and most noteworthy set designs from the past century:
Hamlet, Moscow Art Theater, 1912
Stanislavski’s 1912 production of Hamlet may have been the first theater production to make viewers notice the elegant and sophisticated set design. Designer Edward Gordon Craig’s decision to give the characters cloaks that spread across the entire length of the stage was a masterclass in world building and attention to detail. Craig also played with different reflective materials, sliding screens, and clever lighting to make the play come alive. Contemporary designer Peter Brook has often mentioned the way these sets influenced his work in later years.
The Tempest, the Almeida, 2000
Jonathan Kent’s production of The Tempest features a lot of water. Water, as most designers would know, is not easy to work with on set. Yet Paul Brown took it up as a challenge. Brown managed to transform the Almeida into an expansive watery landscape that helped Aidan Gillen, now part of HBO’s Game of Thrones, to deliver one of his best on-stage performances as Ariel.
The White Guard, West Yorkshire Playhouse, 2010
Howard Davies’s production of The White Guard required designer Bunny Christie to deliver set design pieces that were in constant flux. The relentless motion of on-set screens and props gave the audience a sense of the angst and panic of the 1917 October revolution.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Royal National Theater, 2015
Based on a novel of the same name, Simon Stephens’ adaptation was the highest number of Olivier Awards at the time - seven. Set designer Bunny Christie, who also worked on The White Guard, worked alongside Finn Ross to deliver visual effects that stunned critics from across the globe. The design team would go on to win a Tony Award for their work.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, West End Palace Theatre, London, 2016
Part of J.K. Rowling’s massively successful Harry Potter universe, the Cursed Child won nine Olivier awards and six Tony Awards, one of which was for best design. Christine Jones managed to recreate the universe in an entirely unique, yet familiar way. The production included floor-to-ceiling Hogwarts-themed decorations, 135-foot aluminum wing on the exterior of the theater, and custom carpet throughout the theater to make the venue look like a real-life version of Hogwarts.
Whether it’s expensive and elaborate decorations or a simple, yet effective lighting technique, the best set designers can win the hearts and minds of viewers from the minute they enter.