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Wimbledon and UAL @ NT: Theatre Design explored in public lectures, workshops, exhibition and symposium

Written by John Wallace
Published date 20 December 2018

During an illustrious career as Britain’s leading stage-designer, Jocelyn Herbert pioneered a style of simple but atmospheric set design and her influence continues to be felt in British theatre. Her approach altered the way directors and audiences came to view stage design, and contributed to a fundamental shift in the relationship between writer, director and designer.

At the Royal Court Theatre she worked on world premiers of scripts by Samuel Beckett, John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and David Storey, defining the look of plays that were to become twentieth century classics.

She was also a member of the Building Committee for Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre on London’s South Bank, and went on to mount productions in all three of the auditoria.

A set design featuring a red carpet leading to a throne up some stairs.
Exit the King 2018 designer Anthony Ward c James-Bellorini Photography

Jocelyn also had a long connection with the theatre department at Wimbledon College of Arts, which was for many years run by Malcolm Pryde, who, like Herbert, had been a student of Margaret Harris (‘Percy’ Harris) This shared background made Herbert an important link with the courses Pryde taught, and she was often called in as an external examiner or otherwise to advise the students.

It was Jocelyn’s wish that, after her death, her vast archive of over 6,000 of her drawings, designs, models and ephemera be placed in an institution and be made accessible for students to work with. It was initially housed at Wimbledon until 2014 when an exciting collaboration between UAL and the National Theatre was established and the archive moved to the National’s home on the South Bank. This has led to improved access for students, annual internships, symposia, a lecture series and an exhibition devoted to use of models in theatre-making.

Read on for an update on the latest round of activities related to this special archive

an image of an exhibition poster entitled
Playing with Scale-Exhibition c James-Bellorini Photography

Playing with Scale: How Stage Designers Use Set Models

This free exhibition at the National Theatre is curated by Eleanor Margolies, who has been the Jocelyn Herbert Fellow of Research at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon. Playing with Scale explores how designers use set models for theatre-making and unfolds the idea of a scale model and explains the importance of models as a design tool.

A small scale set design of a man in an office surrounded by desks.
Antigone, designer Soutra Gilmour-c-James Bellorini Photography

If you are visiting the National Theatre head up to the Wolfson Gallery for this exhibition (which is on until 11 May 2019) which includes archive materials, films, audio, images and set models.  Playing with Scale is the outcome of the Jocelyn Herbert Fellowship (2016-18) and forms part of a collaboration between the National Theatre and Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon. The exhibition is funded in part by the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

“I have been looking at the models created by designer Jocelyn Herbert for the last two years and became fascinated by all the different ways that set models are used in the designer’s process,” said Eleanor, “So many conversations happen around and through the model – with directors and actors, set-builders and prop-makers. The exquisite miniature world of the ‘final model’ is only one part of the story. I feel really lucky to have had a glimpse into the usually hidden world of the studio, taking in early sketch models and digital 3D visualizations, and look forward to sharing this with visitors to the exhibition.”

The exhibition focuses on five productions designed for the Olivier stage: The Plough and the Stars (1977, designer Geoffrey Scott), Antigone (2012, designer Soutra Gilmour), The Comedy of Errors (2011, designer Bunny Christie), Exit the King (2018, designer Anthony Ward) and Antony & Cleopatra (2018, designer Hildegard Bechtler).

The exhibition shows how important models were for architect Denys Lasdun, who designed the Olivier auditorium, and how these five designers have responded in very different ways to this unique space.

Three small model box set designs.
Model boxes made by current students of Wimbledon’s BA Theatre Design

Read Nick Smurthwaite’s review in The Stage

Related Talks and Events:Exhibition Insight with Curator Eleanor Margolies – Sat 1 December, 11.30am – this event has passed but Eleanor Margolies has written a paper to accompany the exhibition called Thinking In 3D: Scale Models For The Olivier Theatre

How Designers use Model Boxes – Mon 10 December, 6pm
Out of the Model Box: stories inspired by set models – Sat 2 March, 12pm
Model Box Making Workshop – Sat 2 March, 2pm
Drawing Set Designs with the NT Drawing Office – Thu 21 March, 6pm

‘Staging the Real’ Research at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon presented a sold-out one day symposium on 28 November 2018, considering the construction and representation of the real in theatre and performance.

Convened by Dr Matthew McFrederick (Jocelyn Herbert Post-doctoral Fellow), Professor Jane Collins (Wimbledon College of Arts) and Professor Eileen Hogan (Wimbledon College of Arts), this symposium considered the complex relationship theatre practitioners have in their attempts to access reality and represent social, personal and political actualities on stage.

In a series of workshops and talks the colleges’ research team were joined by some of the world’s leading experts and practitioners in field of theatre design. These included Professor Arnold Aronson (Columbia University), the leading British playwright Roy Williams.

They were joined by the renowned designer Alex Eales, an alumnus of Wimbledon’s Theatre Design programme, whose work can be seen on Neues Stück II (Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Wuppertal) at Sadler’s Wells this spring and in the upcoming Norma Jeane Baker of Troy for The Shed in New York later this year.

An image of three men in black and white
Pro VC, Head of College, Professor David Crow, Michael Billington, critic and Roy Williams, Playwright. Pictures: Sandra Lousada

The Jocelyn Herbert Lecture series The eminent theatre critic and writer Michael Billington joined us at the Dorfman, National Theatre for the ‘critics’ view on theatre design

An image of a theatre
Dorfman, National Theatre

As Britain’s longest-serving theatre critic, Michael gave a fascinating  talk to a packed house giving the audience a whistle-stop account of some of the trends that he has observed over six decades as theatre correspondent.

In a reception backstage at the National Theatre Pro Vice Chancellor and Head of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon David Crow remarked: “It is extremely rare to have a public lecture in a major venue on the subject of theatre design and UAL is keen to support a wide ranging and ongoing public debate about the nature and contribution of a profession, which is often overlooked.”

Jocelyn’s Herbert’s daughter, Sandra Lousada, herself an eminent portrait photographer took some the pictures of Michael and reception guests.

For the next lecture it is the turn of the playwright and Roy Williams, one of the most lauded and admired writers of his generation will join us at the Lyttleton, National Theatre om 8 March 2019 for his lecture Write What is Not Seen, where he will talk about set design and how it supports him to convey the complexity of multi-cultural Britain.

The Jocelyn Herbert Lecture Roy Williams: Write What is not Seen is on 8 March 2019 at 6pm.  To book your tickets please visit the event pages of the National Theatre.

Playing with Scale: How Stage Designers use set models a free exhibition in the Wolfson Gallery
– Until 11 May 2019 –

To find out more about Theatre Design at Wimbledon, check out our BA Theatre Design and MA Theatre Design course pages.