Putting the Nation on Stage

Meet the Creative: Imogen Ross / Set and Costume

September 9, 2019

What attracted you to Take Two : A Comedy of Errors

My first response to being asked to design Take Two: A Comedy of Errors by Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta was “Wow! I would love to collaborate with Stefo and Hilary Bell!”. They are both very talented theatre makers that I have wanted to connect with creatively in the past.

Then I read an early draft of the script that Hilary sent me and couldn’t stop laughing. She captured brilliantly all the humour and farce of Shakespeare’s original play in a condensed easy-to-understand, easy to watch version for younger audiences. I was hooked. It is funny whether you are seven or seventy.

When you read the script, did you have an instinctive response to it, specifically in terms of how you wanted the set to look?

No I didn’t. I came to the script and the week-long creative development with a very open mind as to what we might create together. Afterwards, I spent a long time trying to work out the best solution that could still honor the playwright’s intention that everything comes out of a suitcase, as if by magic with my own wish for a set that could transform to create the many different locations mentioned in the script. Despite creating a three-sided ‘periaktoi’ on a revolve for Take Two, I do usually prefer sets that are somewhat stylised and ambiguous so they can become transformative under lights on stage – I prefer metaphor and suggestion rather than needing to provide every last bit of furniture and props.

With our play however, I felt the level of miscommunication between the identical twins was so farcical that I needed to create loads of opportunities for entries and exits that the audience could see how they mixed each other up so easily. So the central piece provides three archways and the rest of the set provides seven different archways – all enabling the actors to enter and exit in multiple locations.

Other inspiration came from ongoing discussions with Stefo as to how he saw the world of Ephesus as compared to the world of Syracuse (which is sensed but never seen) as a device to create distinction between the two sets of twins. We both felt that Ephesus needed to provide a sense of ‘the other’ to our two travelling heroes – exotic, dangerous and unknown.

What research did you do for the set and costume in TAKE TWO: A COMEDY OF ERRORS? What has been your starting point?

We fixed upon Istanbul in Turkey and the coastal tourist/trading towns of the Asriatic as our Ephesus starting point. My early visual references were fountains, town squares, doorways, windows and archways of Turkey, Lebanon, Spain, Morocco and Egypt.

I looked for common shapes, colours and textures that could help define the world of Ephesus as an amalgam of all these exotic places. Golds, ochres, umbers, dusty reds, faded blues and deep azure kept popping up. Arabic archways and beautiful tiling. A cross between Australia and the Eastern Mediterranean. Fairfield meets the Gold Coast meets Star City meets Istanbul.

This is your third production with Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta – what keeps you coming back?

I like what Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta does in terms of actively supporting new artists and pairing them with more experienced performance makers. I enjoy working collaboratively. I enjoy the food in Parramatta too!

Can you tell me about a memorable experience you had as a child at the theatre?

When my family first arrived in Sydney in the 1970s, my dad worked full time at NIDA and put me forward as a child actor in Seven Characters in Search of an Author – a classic symbolist play by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello.

I had to be drowned by my brother (played by a very young Tom Burlinson) every night in a wooden fountain, then lay there very, very still till the end of the play. I would lie there on stage listening to the actors every night, in full stage light, unseen by the audience yet absorbing the feeling of ‘being’ on stage.

That feeling has never left me – of being a part of something that has the power to manipulate and transform. The power of storytelling is the power of theatre.

TAKE TWO: A COMEDY OF ERRORS
13 AND 14 September
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