National Theatre explores “exquisite miniature world” of stage set models

A new exhibition at the theatre looks at the role scale models have to play in stage set design, picking out five productions from the last four decades as examples.

© James Bellorini Photography

The National Theatre has opened an exhibition on the art of theatre set design, focusing on the importance of model-making in the process.

Playing with Scale: How Designers Use Set Models looks at how stage designers for the National Theatre have used model boxes to help inform entire sets, and will feature original model boxes used in the theatre’s productions, archive materials, films, audio and photography.

Many of the models in the exhibition, which include miniature props and furniture, were crafted by the late costume designer Jocelyn Herbert, who died in 2003, and have been preserved within the theatre’s archives. Others were created by various designers and craftspeople post-2003.

The show has been curated by Eleanor Margolies, a writer on theatre and a fellow in Jocelyn Herbert Research at University of the Arts London (UAL), and looks to explore the “exquisite miniature world” of models, she says. The exhibition space has been created by theatre set designer Jemima Robinson.

Antigone, 2012, designed by Soutra Gilmour © James Bellorini Photography

The exhibition will focus on five productions designed for the National Theatre, including: The Plough and the Stars, designed by Geoffrey Scott in 1977; The Comedy of Errors, designed by Bunny Christie in 2011; Antigone, designed by Soutra Gilmour in 2012; Exit the King, designed by Anthony Ward in 2018; and Antony & Cleopatra, designed by Hildegard Bechtler in 2018.

It will also examine the theatre space itself, particularly looking at the main Olivier auditorium, and how models were used to inform architect Denys Lasdun’s vision, as well as how set designers have created shows for this space.

Exit the King, 2018, designed by Anthony Ward © James Bellorini Photography

“I have been looking at the models created by Jocelyn Herbert for the last two years and became fascinated by all the different ways that set models are used in the designer’s process,” says Margolies. “So many conversations happen around and through the model, with directors and actors, set-builders and prop-makers. The exquisite miniature world of the ‘final model’ is only one part of the story.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of talks and workshops running in December 2018 and March 2019, which includes a talk by Margolies herself, and a model-box making workshop.

Playing with Scale: How Designers Use Set Models is open now, and runs until 23 March 2019 at the Wolfson Gallery, Royal National Theatre, Upper Ground, Lambeth, London SE1 9PX. Entry is free. For more information, head here.

The Plough and the Stars, 1977, designed by Geoffrey Scott © James Bellorini Photography
Antony and Cleopatra, 2018, designed by Hildegard Bechtler © James Bellorini Photography
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