From the Globe to South Brisbane

Getting the Bard on the boards at the Bille Brown.

The Hollywood-inspired aspects of Queensland Theatre's (QT's) Taming of the Shrew make it the ideal candidate for the company's first filmed production, available to watch on demand. Stage Whispers' Beth Keehn spoke to designer, Adam Gardnir about his set and costume designs as the production gets set to bump out from the big stage and stream on to small screens soon.

Beth Keehn: How do you start designing a play like Taming of the Shrew?

Adam Gardnir:  Well, for a start, QT's Artistic Director, Lee Lewis wanted to get big casts back on stage after last year, and we wanted to use the scale of Shakespeare. This was the first time I've worked with our Director, Damien Ryan, but he has worked on this play before. And so, the starting point for this production was looking at Damien's video footage and photos – and we've used some of those concepts – but the Bille Brown Theatre is very different, so we've had to adapt our ideas to the space. I still call my set design the 'Globe Theatre' – it has the wooden decks the painted scenery, the sky cloth, all of those elements are in the Globe (maybe slightly turned on their head), because for me, the Globe is always where you start with Shakespeare. He was writing knowing that the plays were going to be performed in that space. So, I drew from that as the first step, and then fused that with Damien's vision – the Hollywood vision, the Wild West, the aviation, it's the backlot of a film set – with scope for the audience's imagination – the audience and the cast complete the design.

And that's the reason I design for the theatre: we create spaces that just start their stories at curtain up when the audience walks in, and by the time the show is over, that sculpture is finished. The set has had 11 actors speak wildly over it for a few hours – the design is very much in pieces that aren't finished on their own – they need the actors and the audience.

BK: You are also designing the costumes as well. How does that process work?

AG: Costumes have to help the actors tell their story. When an actor arrives on the stage, the costume has to answer 5 to 10 quick questions about where they're from, who they are, their wealth, their education level, gender ... especially in this play; so many characters just turn up on stage and start speaking. The costumes in this production are fun and exciting and vibrant, but they also help the audience – every time an actor walks out, very quickly the story for that character is starting. The audience will benefit from being able to receive a lot of that information very quickly and visually – which the actors conclude – but the costume starts the fire.

Working on both design elements, I usually work on the set design first. For this production, it was great that the set was built before rehearsals – all the pieces progressively arrived in the rehearsal room. I had notional combinations for the set pieces when we started in rehearsal, but the set build evolved in the rehearsal process: the actors and Damien started to piece them together in various combinations, and they've been developed and strengthened by adding all sorts of things. When you see the show, the set pieces are continually moving.

I design all the costumes before rehearsals start. The actors then come in with their own visions and interpretations which I want to take on board and support – because the actors are really responsible for going on stage and delivering that character. We've had a lot of fun with fashion and eras in this production. Damien has infused a Hollywood aesthetic of film and cinematography and storytelling and silent film, the gender politics of silent film – and that makes absolute sense in the way we put the show together.

BK: Where can we see your design work next?

AG: I'm lucky enough to be working on three musicals in a row! I'm doing two projects for the Conservatorium at Griffith University -– designing the sets for their third-year productions – Grease in the Music Theatre School and Kurt Weill's Street Scene at the Opera School, both at the South Bank Theatre, and then Mamma Mia at the Star Gold Coast.

Taming of the Shrew plays on stage until 5 June 2021.

The QT at Home production is available to watch on demand from 14 to 20 June:

Taming of the Shrew production images by Brett Boardman.

Watch QT's interview with Adam Gardnir