Innovation And Impact In Sets Designed By Women

Jasmine Butler

In a previously male-dominated industry, set design in modern theatre has become increasingly influenced by female designers. In 2019, three of the four nominees for the Olivier award for set design were female. Jasmine takes a look at some of the most interesting and influential female designers in modern theatre.

Bunny Christie

She used a vivid red design for Caesar reminiscent of a Trumpian dictatorship at the beginning of the play

In looking into female set designers in the West End my first thought was Bunny Christie, who had a huge impact on London theatre with her designs for Frantic Assembly’s A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Her coordination with Paul Constable and Finn Ross to create a multimedia experience using an LED box setting which features mass use of projection to light up the world of the main character Christopher creates an almost immersive experience for the audience.

She then takes this further in her work with director Nicholas Hytener in both Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream  at the Bridge Theatre, using a standing audience which are moved around Christie’s sets that pop up in and out of existence through the rising and falling floor of the stage itself. She used a vivid red design for Caesar reminiscent of a Trumpian dictatorship at the beginning of the play, transitioning into a war-zone as the set builds up throughout the production,  becoming filled with barbed wire, bins on fire and eventually a large tank. Christie’s design throws the audience into the action of the play, creating a truly immersive experience. 

Rachel Hauk

Hauck created a New Orleans style, industrialised dark set, lit by hanging lights that swing

 Perhaps one of the most iconic musicals to come out of recent theatre was Hadestown, an original musical that set the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in industrial America. The set design by Rachel Hauck created the aesthetic perfectly. Using a riser and triple revolve to create some movement in the piece, Hauck created a New Orleans style, industrialised dark set, lit by hanging lights that swing. The use of the riser created the feeling of actually descending into Hades, and the dark greys and browns of the set really help create the hopelessness of the working class that the musical conveys.

Chloe Lamford

Chloe Lamford’s work is dark and dystopian in style. She worked with director Katie Mitchell on her production of Ophelias Zimmer at the Schaubühne Berlin, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet entirely from Ophelia’s perspective and featuring a darkly abusive Hamlet and overbearing Polonius. Lamford’s design is entirely in a glass box that is Ophelia’s room. She uses small nods to the original work and depictions of Ophelia in art, such as the bucket of flowers in her room, whilst also creating a deeply clinical aesthetic. The shining aspect of the design however, comes in the final act where the box itself begins to flood with water, leaving Ophelia floating. The design is bold and innovative, the glass box creating a real feeling of entrapment of the character.

‘Big brother is watching you’

Lamford also worked with Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillian in 2015 on their production of Orwell’s 1984. She mashes together both retro styles with dystopian themes to leave the audience feeling deeply uneasy. The set uses a wooden office style interior with large windows, which feels retro and ordinary however above this is a massive projected screen angled towards the audience overbearingly. Projections of characters actions and slogans such as the infamous ‘Big brother is watching you’ create the oppressing sense of constant surveillance the play explores, created in a subtle and different way. The set is then broken down as the play progresses, as the wooden interior is folded away and the screens moved back to leave the stage feeling barren and empty as the torture scenes begin. Lamford’s design here compliments the action on stage perfectly, as the set is stripped away in the same way the view of the society is in the story.

Jasmine Butler

Featured image courtesy of v2osk via Image licensing can be found here. Article images courtesy of  @skenegraphia @hadestown @_bridgetheatre and @curious_incident via For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.


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