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Exclusive: Olivier Award Best Set Designs

Published 2 April 2015

From scripts piled as high as the theatre’s ceiling and a virtual world of towering trees to Airfix boxes and stark brooding minimalism, the sets nominated for this year’s XL Video Award for Best Set Design are staggeringly eclectic.

Intrigued by the incredible designs, which transform the stages of star-studded new musicals, thrilling new plays and classic revivals, we asked some of this year’s nominated designers to share their Olivier Award nominated work with us.

Take a look at our gallery above to see some of the designer’s original models and read on to discover the inspiration behind some of their creations.

Bunny Christie, Made In Dagenham

We wanted the show to be fun and lively with a 60s poppy feel to it, but also to be gritty and a bit grimy when we are in Dagenham and then absurdist and Pythonesque when we are in Westminster.

Although the show is about a strike in a Ford Car Factory there aren’t that many scenes in the factory so the set had to be able to become lots of different locations. Coming up with the Airfix concept gave me a lovely visual metaphor to unify all the scenes. We had lots of moving conveyor belts of car seats and crane hooks and full size car parts and engine parts, which the company interacted with beautifully.

Scenes in Parliament were all done as though inside Big Ben with silly civil servants. Home was all inside a bright orange Airfix box with lovely 60s dressing. We had a beautiful white Ford Cortina drive on stage complete with 1960s go-go dancers in silver sequins and an American Jeep carrying a troupe of GI Janes, and then finally a bunch of bumper cars all of which our brilliant team had to fit in the non-existent wing space.

Es Devlin, The Nether

The Nether asks many of the questions that have been asked by authors since the beginning of human consciousness: how do we reconcile the cerebral and the corporal?

The play is set in a not-too-distant future in which humanity is on the verge of mass emigration from a now treeless world into an evolved version of the internet: The Nether.

The design needed to evoke virtual worlds as if the code of the future was brilliant enough to render the virtual as tangible as the materials we currently refer to as ‘real’. The virtual world needed to be irresistibly beautiful and seductive in contrast to a desiccated bleak ‘reality’.

The first three scenes subject the audience to a drab shallow grey room relaying relentless loops of surveillance footage. After 20 minutes of merciless greyness, an infinitely mirrored box of ‘real’ trees is revealed in progressively greater glimpses through a membrane of projected stages of its creation in wireframe.

The effect of the design is felt in the tension an audience feels between its attraction to the beauty of The Nether and its revulsion from the activities that unfold within it.

Rob Jones, City Of Angels

The challenge (and ultimate joy) of designing this production for the Donmar Warehouse was how to solve the many locations and around 42 scene changes. As the space is on three sides we had to find solutions that did not rely on flying, trucking, tracking, often associated with proscenium conceived musicals.

The piece demands a slickness and wit dictated by a sharp, funny and very quick-witted script set both in black and white and technicolour Hollywood. The basic set remained throughout.; a two-tiered world with a lower section of ‘ordered’ piles of scripts, which rose to the full height of the Donmar becoming increasingly untidy until at the top they appeared to be about to collapse: a visual metaphor for the world of the Hollywood writer.

Into this world with the use of strictly colour-coded props, furniture and costume (hugely helped by the lighting and projection) we created the swift changes from black and white to colour.


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