In his determination to re-establish the Royal Court as the capital’s hotbed of theatrical innovation, artistic director Dominic Cooke felt it was essential to have a new look for his first season.
That look was entrusted to Simon Williams and his nine-strong graphics company Feast, in December 2006. Feast is fast establishing itself as the leading studio specialising in theatre graphics, with a client base including Sonia Friedman Productions, Northern Ballet Theatre, Matthew Bourne (Edward Scissorhands, Nutcracker and The Car Man), the Menier Chocolate Factory and The Ambassador Theatre Group – the largest operator in the West End and the second-largest regional group.
The big idea that won Feast the Royal Court pitch – pipping nine other studios to the post – was to ditch the usual stapled brochure of forthcoming attractions in favour of a collection of separate DL-sized cards, one for each production, each with its own distinctive style.
A consumer survey later showed a mixed reaction/ some people found the cards irritating; others liked the idea of being able to discard some, and attach the ones they were interested in to a noticeboard or their fridge door.
Williams used variations of the same font for all the text but different illustrators for each production, except for two shows which were playing in repertory. The only image common to each one is the Royal Court logo, which uses the familiar, red-rimmed neon facia at the front of the building.
From the outset, Williams worked closely with Royal Court personnel to move away from what Cooke saw as the theatre’s ‘exclusive club mentality’. He wanted to make the graphics – and by association the product on offer – more appealing to a wider audience.
Williams, who started out training as an architect, switched to theatre graphics in the mid-1980s, targeting small companies that couldn’t afford to employ the big London consultancies. Not surprisingly, one of the latter – Dewynters – thought it would be safer to have him on its side, so he worked there as a senior designer for three-and-a-half years.
‘I learnt virtually everything I know at Dewynters,’ he explains. ‘Especially how to be more commercial, since my work prior to joining them had been quite art-based.’
He left Dewynters to join Tangerine, the design studio attached to McCabe’s, Dewynters’ main rival at the time, before setting up on his own three years later, in 1996.
Growth has been slow but steady and in 2005 Williams decided to rebrand the studio as Feast. ‘There were six of us by then, so I wanted people to know that I wasn’t working out of my back bedroom, that we were a proper company. If someone is putting on a West End musical and they need 20 ads done in a week, they need to know you have the back-up to deliver the artwork on time. Renaming the studio Feast absolutely did the trick.’
If one production in particular put Feast on the map it was Guys and Dolls, which is about to enter its third year in the West End. Being hired to work on a West End musical, normally the preserve of one of the bigger boys, made the studio look like a major player.
Since then they have worked on Endgame and Boeing Boeing for Sonia Friedman, currently the West End’s hottest producer, the musical Little Shop of Horrors, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Roundhouse, which is a stone’s throw from Feast’s Camden studio.
Despite having no marketing back-up, Feast is now sufficiently highly rated to be called to the table with much larger marketing and design companies such as Dewynters and AKA. ‘People don’t come to us for our look, we don’t have a house style,’ says Williams. ‘They come to us because they know they’ll get strong creative solutions for their particular product. It’s the ideas that get us to the table, coming up with something special.’
Theatre graphics is very much a niche market, so now that Feast is up to nine personnel, is Williams considering expanding into other fields?
‘At present, theatre accounts for 95 per cent of our business, but I’m certainly looking at new media outlets, and maybe filming promotional clips of shows for in-flight entertainment and the Web. But the important thing is to maintain our reputation for having the best creative ideas,’ he says.