Foundation Art and Design 2004/2005

Evaluate the set, lighting, costume and props of two performances that you have recently attended. What would you change and why?

On the 14th of February I went to the opening night of a performance of Chicago the musical at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham.

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The set was simple and effective, relatively full yet uncluttered. The stage was predominantly painted matt black with what looked like a gold leaf frame around it.

The music to accompany the performance was provided by a small orchestra that was situated in the centre of the stage. This was very effective as music is played throughout and is integral to the plot. The musicians were situated within a black,tiered box with which the cast could interact; as there were doorways and gaps through which the cast could move. The pianos and other appropriate instruments were black, creating an air of uniformity, and it was a masterstroke having the accompaniment centre stage, as the conductor not only fulfilled his expected duty, but also had the role of giving information at various points during the show. The overall effect produced by the minimalism of the set was clean cut and glamorous, this very successfully complemented the air of danger and sparkle portrayed by the production.

The set remained the same throughout, (with props used to indicate scene changes,) with the exception of the last musical number. Gold glittery curtains were drawn across the set – masking the band and other cast members from view as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart triumphed performing a number together.

It is my opinion, that the lighting of the performance was very appropriate and cleverly executed. It was, as was the set was designed to be, simple yet effective so as to not detract from the performance itself. It was mainly white spotlights that were used, to draw the viewers’ attention to the person or people being illuminated, but other means of lighting were used on occasion. For example during the scenes set in a prison, bars of light were shone onto the black stage; there were no physical bars but this highly effective lighting technique created a distinct impression of enclosure by mimicking the form of prison cell bars.

The performance was punctuated with coloured lighting. This was used sparsely and so generated intrigue whenever it was used. During the courthouse scene, a row of large yellow bulbs was lowered onto the stage. The cast members, who played the jury, then stood behind the lights and, in times when they voiced opinion, leant forward into the rays that shone towards the theatre ceiling. This was atmospheric and conveyed how the defendant feared the jurors and saw hem as monstrous and unfeeling. Red light was shone onto the …. woman who was hung for murder, although she was not guilty. This conjured up a very somber and sinister atmosphere, red being the colour of blood and signifying the loss of life, an effect similar to that used in the court scene.

During the finale, yellow stars were projected onto the gold glittery curtains, finishing the performance on an upbeat note. The warm, bright colours made for an air of optimism – a new start for the two leading ladies who put a life of murder and deception behind them.

Very few props were used during the performance; again the minimalism ensured that the attention of the audience was focused on the cast. For the most part the set was lined with simple black chairs that formed rows from the back to the front of the stage next to the wings. The chairs were used a great deal in various scenes, for seating, but also for other purposes, i.e. as an aid in various dance routines. Black bowler hats and shiny black canes also featured in some of the dances.

A plain black ladder was arranged so that it could fold out from either side of the stage at relevant times for use in the prison and in the hanging scene. Here, I feel the ladder was used to great effect. The actual hanging was itself not shown, but the act was portrayed by the woman to be hung climbing the ladder, which was then snapped back out of view and into the wings, and a heavy noose falling to the stage from above making a resonating thud. The technique of not always using props when actions would suffice was employed throughout the performance.

Upon the introduction of Billy Flynn, more props were utilised in the form of decadent pink feather fans, out of step with the rest of the performance, but appropriate in showing the persona of the ruthless and largely false lawyer who claims that all he cares about is love…clearly not the romantic kind, but from his adoring clientele and the press.

The costumes worn by both men and women were very stylized and, although reminiscent of the attire that would have been fashionable in the time period in which the show was set, they were very revealing. The costumes, for both men and women, were predominantly black and made from various materials; mesh, lace, leather and PVC, for different effects. To begin with, Roxie Hart, who was relatively innocent, wore a floaty, dropped waist dress that was almost knee length and fairly frumpy, whereas, by the finale, her clothing was more revealing, tighter fitting, and trimmed with transparent mesh. Accent colours of gold and silver were used in the costumes as the story progressed to represent character traits. Roxie’s character in particular became stronger and more brazen, and therefore more adorned with colour. For example, in her trial she wore silver pumps with rhinestone buckles stolen from her then competition, Velma Kelly.

Billy Flynn, played by Marti Pellow, was dressed impeccably at all times. He wore a simple black suit, effective in portraying his character; sharp and ruthless. Amon, in comparison, was scruffy and untidy, wearing mismatched colours, a cardigan, trousers and shoes, giving the impression of his lack of importance, as voiced in the song Mr. Cellophane. The band wore plain black, almost suits, smart and in keeping with the performance, but plain so as not to detract from the actors.

On the 16th I saw a modern day interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, adapted by Bryony Lavery.

My first reaction to the set was one of awe. The set was dark, reflecting the mood of, and giving atmosphere to, the performance. It was incredibly complex ands supremely detailed, from the grain of the wooden floorboards and the texture of the bricks, to the rusting iron railings. The set was also very interesting, in that it was on a steep incline sloping towards the audience and it incorporated four platforms on which the bulk of the action took place. Two of the platforms were at stage level on both the left and the right, and two were higher up the slope, the right platform higher than that on the left. The top left and front right platforms had computers situated on tables as permanent fixtures of the set.

Above, and at right angles to the ‘floor,’ a wall was suspended, giving the eerie sensation of viewing the environment from both the side and from above at once. Beneath the top left platform and above the top right, affixed to the suspended back wall, were large flat screens on which the audience viewed messages and pictures sent from one character to another, using modern technologies, the internet and mobile phone photo messaging.

The lighting was provided predominantly by white spot lamps that illuminated the action that was taking part on stage, (although on occasion, when Dracula was the focus, red light was used MAKE MORE OF THIS – RED = BLOOD ETC) this combined with the use of carbon dioxide gas gave a dreamy unnatural look, and I feel the lighting was very effective in creating the desired atmosphere EXPAND. The rear suspended wall had bricks missing to appear in a state of disrepair and decay, and the set was backlit through these well-positioned gaps.

The props were few and far between; in many instances use was made of suggestive NOT THE RIGHT WORD _ BUT I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN acting and appropriate additions to the dialogue. For example, to let the audience no that a ship was approaching someone would state that this was the case. However, what props were used were used to great effect. For example the essential and effective coffins and crates of earth also doubled up as beds with the aid of sheets and pillows.

Computers and modern technologies played a very important role in this production, with all communications visible to the audience on the large computer screens. This gave a feeling of intimacy; the audience could empathise with the characters after seeing pictures of them with their partners or friends in everyday life situations. The viewers also benefited from reading correspondences between characters, as they acted out soliloquies, again giving character insight.

Ruari Murchison has designed an elaborate set. It’s constructed on different levels, incorporating a variety of slopes (a real challenge for the actors), and is dominated by two enormous angled ‘computer’ screens. On these, the audience can view the messages and pictures exchanged between estate agent Jonathan Harker and his girlfriend Mina – messages which never reach their destination, having been blocked by the computer-literate count. Now there’s a twist to the tale.

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