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The magic behind the show-stopping sets
AS Salisbury Playhouse prepares to open its autumn season with On Golden Pond, the theatre’s construction team are hard at work creating an authentic-looking Maine lakeside house.
Ernest Thompson’s play, which became an Oscar-winning film starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, is a funny and affectionate play about the trials of growing old.
The story is about Norman and Ethel, who have spent every summer for 40 years at their cabin on the shores of Golden Pond.
When their daughter visits with her new fiancé and his teenage son, Norman forms a grandfatherly bond with the boy and it forces him to re-evaluate his troubled relationship with his daughter.
The play is directed by Ria Parry, who has recently directed The Winter’s Tale at Regent’s Park open air theatre, and worked with designer James Button to create the lakeside house where all the play’s action takes place.
Button has been working in theatre for about 15 years and was interested in designing from a young age.
“I initially thought I’d go into acting but I remember being in a production when I was nine thinking ‘I’m more interested in the sets than being on stage’.”
He has worked extensively with Parry before and was working on another project with her when they found out about this one.
“We trust each other and develop something from the beginning,” he said. “That was definitely the case with this project.
“It’s such a beautifully written play and we didn’t want to conceptualise too much as the subject matter is something we relate to.”
Button said the set for On Golden Pond is very much about the detail, creating a place that shows the couple’s relationship, and how they’ve grown and developed there.
He is also designing the costumes, as well as working on three shows in the West End.
Once a designer creates a rough white card model of the set, Tim Reed, head of construction at the Playhouse, works out the costs, what materials will be needed and how long the work will take.
Once this had been done, Button spent about two weeks creating a scale model, with drawings that the Playhouse team use to build the set.
Reed, who has been at the Playhouse for 11 years, said it will take eight people to assemble it.
“With this one we can’t really hide anything because it is about realism.
All the roof tiles are individually cut, painted and placed on and the fireplace stones were made from soft board cut into individual blocks and glued on.
“Every set is different and it can make or break a show. But seeing an audience’s reaction is great, as is hearing positive comments or getting a round of applause when the curtain goes up.”
* On Golden Pond runs at Salisbury Playhouse from September 12 to October 5. For tickets call the box office on 01722 320333 or go to salisburyplayhouse.com.
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