|Tarzan swinging through the trees in a African Jungle|
Bob Crowley has wowed viewers from all over the world. His backdrop designs have included the biggest theatrical strikes bringing beauty to the West End and Broadway. I admire his outstanding designs which show breathtaking visual detail and striking colours which embrace the stage. The phenomenal designer has continuously impressed the audience by winning Best Scenic Designer during his career. This includes designing for:
The History Boys- 2006
The coast of Utopia- 2007
Mary Poppins- 2007
As well as designing sets Crowley has designed costumes for Mary Poppins and Love Never Dies. He recently had an interview with the Guardian newspaper. Crowley reveals his ambition, tough moments and determination.
When did you first want to be a set designer?
I think when I first saw Oliver! Designed by a fellow Irishman called Sean Kenny in the 60s. I saw a touring production of it in Ireland and it made a profound impression. He'd taken all the scenery away and revealed the walls of the theatre and the lighting rig. I suppose I had a slightly Victorian idea of what scenery could be, and here was a man who was actually sculpting in space.
Where did you learn your skills?
I did fine art for a while, and then I decided that I really wanted to work in the theatre, so I came to England and studied at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school for a year, then started working my way up in the business.
The Duchess of Malfi at the Royal Exchange in about 1980, with Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins. It was a huge critical success, and it transferred to the Roundhouse in London. I then got invited to work at the RSC, and then to work at the National. I've sort of divided my life between the two institutions.
I love the Olivier and the Royal Court. I used to love the original Other Place in Stratford, which was just a Nissen hut, but that's gone now. And I love a theatre in New York which a lot of people don't like, called the Vivian Beaumont theatre, which is not unlike the Olivier. I love big spaces like that, not because I want to put a lot of scenery in them, but because I think they're exciting.
|Set and costume design for Mary Poppins|
Oh, that's easy. The Barbican. The RSC went from the Aldwych to the Barbican, and suddenly we were having to work underground all day long. To work all day long in a space where you never see daylight is pretty grim, really. Also, I could never get my head around the aesthetic of the Barbican – I was confused when I was working there, so God knows what it's like for a member of the public. That's kind of unforgivable.
Most upsetting experience?
I did a musical on Broadway, written by the great songwriter Paul Simon. It was his first musical. I worked on and off with Paul on that musical for about four years. It was an incredibly close partnership. And it was just a miserable experience. The critics were absolutely vitriolic about it, to what I thought was a disgraceful degree. It was the most painful experience I've ever had.
Favourite part of the job?
I love it when you get a great script, and you get a great rush of adrenaline having read it, or a composer plays you something from the score for the first time, and you think, "Crikey, this is going to be fantastic." That's a great moment. And I love the tabula rasa of the empty page, trying to work out how this thing is going to be staged. The process of beginning a project, I find scary but unbelievably exciting. That never goes away.
What would most surprise an outsider about your day-to-day work?
I think the amount of detail we go into – at every single part of the process, there are hundreds of decisions being made all the time, about colour, about texture, about detail, about light, about where you place something on a stage. For instance, having just done Phèdre, there was an empty stage, but into that I had to place chairs. And the process I went through to find the correct chair! The minute you put a chair on stage, it tells you a period, it tells you a culture, it tells you a civilisation – you can place that space instantly by the information that a chair gives you. We went through hundreds of different variations, and I wound up designing them in the end. It's the hardest thing in the world to design a chair! Somebody ended up calling them Etruscan, or something like that. I could deal with Etruscan – but Conran, I couldn't have dealt with.
Advice for someone wanting to do what you do?
Can you put what you do into five words or less?
I create other worlds.
|Chilling atmosphere: North Pole set|
|Striking graphic for Tarzan Musical|