The biggest outdoor theatre event, Shakespeare in the Park, is back! Held at Fort Canning Park, Shakespeare in the Park - Julius Caesar runs till 27 May 2018. Featuring a unique set, comprising clever elements designed for the enjoyment of its viewers, this modernised variant of the Shakespearian classic has set its stage to entertain and surprise. From using a video screen to bridge the gap between its characters and modern society, to allowing the audience to walk through the set and making them feel involved in the play, the unique set for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park is designed to delight and enthral! The DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) speaks to Richard Kent, the Production Designer of Julius Caesar, to find out more about the design of the stage.
Dsg: What was the inspiration behind the design of the set?
RICHARD KENT (RK): Staging a production like Julius Caesar requires us to build an entire village, on top of designing a set that can withstand the elements and enthral audiences who are sitting up front as well as far away from the stage. We constantly challenge ourselves to design sets that are bigger, bolder and breath-taking to audiences both old and new.
The original locations in Julius Caesar were hugely varied. To work with our political language and the idea of the R.O.M.E organisation, we looked for references that would give us a striking architectural backdrop and therefore the freedom to present the locations in a dynamic and abstract way.
Mid-century brutalist architecture and iconic headquarters like the UN in New York were hugely influential references in the design process. This architecture has a beautiful simplicity and plays with bold and dynamic forms, something which I think is a perfect fit for the park and our political setting.
It relies heavily on lighting to help define the space, so we looked at lots of abstract black and white photographic images as we wanted there to be a play between light and shadow. The lighting designer Gabriel Chan has done a wonderful job of building layers of atmosphere in the lighting to turn the mostly static set into the many locations needed.
Dsg: How is the stage for Julius Caesar different from others you’ve designed for Shakespeare in the Park?
RK: When I designed The Merchant of Venice in 2014, we created a strong visual language quickly, which led to a solid design and shape early on, we then later explored and developed ways to utilise the design and structure to tell our story.
In complete reverse this time, I worked on a storyboard with Guy Unsworth, the director of Julius Caesar, from day one. This meant each new idea informed how the structure and shape of the set developed. As an example, the R.O.M.E Logo was conceived at the same time as I was working on the shape of the stepped flooring. The two informed each other and changes I made to one meant changes to the other. When the audience see the set and logo together in the park, hopefully they will be able to spot the connections between the two.
Dsg: In what ways will the set enhance the play and audience experience?
RK: In early conversations with the Guy, we discussed wanting to make the audience a part of the production. The public citizens in Julius Caesar are a key part of the way the political tables are turned, so we wanted the audience to become our citizens. Traditionally in the park, there is a clear backstage area. This year though when the audience enter, they are greeted by a 360-design that will give them the chance to walk through the set. Much like tourists visiting the political buildings found around the world, the audience will be able to step in to the inner sanctum of power before taking their seats. I hope the design makes the audience feel like more than just spectators.
Dsg: What are the best features of the set?
RK: I would hope not one feature of the set stands out above the other. We wanted to create a holistic space that has many layers that we can embellish with effect. One striking feature is the inclusion of a curved video screen that spans the whole set. It has given us the opportunity to heighten the interaction between the political class and modern media and society with video; some of which is a live feed like a breaking news report. The set has many features that I think the audience will enjoy. I will not give them all away, but we have plenty of tricks up our sleeves to hopefully deliver a theatrical spectacle everyone will enjoy.