Bunny Christie would have become a fine artist, but the theatre design course at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design looked like a lot more fun.
‘It can’t have been the money because nobody in their right mind goes into the theatre to make money. But I liked the idea of working with lots of like-minded people towards a common goal,’ says Christie.
Unusually for anyone working in this field, Christie manages to combine a thriving career – her stunning sets for Baby Doll are now on show at the Albery Theatre in London’s West End – with being a mother to two young children. ‘I certainly take on less work than I used to because having kids means you’re not 100 per cent focused on your career,’ she says. ‘I’ve had to turn things down if the timing isn’t right or they don’t feel right for me.’
Christie was first introduced to theatre at the estimable Glasgow Citizens, under the artistic direction of Philip Prowse.
‘Everything he did was fantastic. Indirectly he taught me what can be done with theatre design.’
In the past two decades she has worked at the National Theatre (Dealer’s Choice, War and Peace), the Royal Shakespeare Company (Happy End, The Devil Is An Ass), the Royal Court, the Globe, the Old Vic and the Glasgow Tron.
Currently, it is her partnership with director Lucy Bailey, first on As You Like It, and now on Baby Doll, that is keeping Christie busy.
‘Your relationship with the director is crucial, which is why you come across so many director/ designer teams. With Bailey I felt immediately that we talked the same visual language, and liked the same imagery,’ she says.
‘We didn’t set out to make Baby Doll look like the movie, but in the early stages we talked a lot in filmic terms. I wanted the feeling you get when you walk down a residential street at night and fleetingly peer into somebody’s front room… a kind of Peeping Tom thing.’
In the play’s domestic scenes, the audience is sexily teased into private worlds using a clever peepshow device. But there is also a vast cotton mill set that filled the huge stages at Birmingham Rep and the National’s Lyttelton Theatre.
‘Each time it has moved on, the show has got smaller. Now there isn’t even enough room to move the sets to the side of the stage. We’ve had to rebuild a lot of it so that it can be lifted above the stage. But it’s a small price to pay for having a show in the West End,’ she says.