First Look: Pressure Set Design

First Look: Pressure Set Design

7 February 2018

'The pressure charts play a major part — seeing them is crucial, their function both physically and as a storytelling device was also crucial'  Designer Colin Richmond shares insights into the design process. 

Model of the set with three desks, all with their own weather equipment and telephones. They are dwarfed by huge weather charts behind. A full length window to the side allows the audience to see the weather as it changes

How was the basic structure of the set worked out? How important were the conversations you had with Director John Dove?
Pressure is set in a very specific place and time and it’s a place that did and still does exist.  We researched quite heavily into the architecture of Southwick House and from there we adopted a feel for the space and the tone that we wished to convey.  A lofty old room which felt it had seen better days and was now being used for storage seemed to be the first direction we went down.  A space that during the duration of the story becomes something with more meaning,  re-purposed and ultimately historical.  The pressure charts play a major part — seeing them is crucial,  their function both physically and as a storytelling device was also crucial... as is the window…  and that we can see the effect of the various weather fronts coming through.

The play is set at Southwick House in wartime 1944. What were your main inspirations and were there any particular challenges approaching this period?
The inspiration was the room itself and drawing as much from historical actualities as we felt necessary.  It’s not exactly the room but we hope it’s got the vibe of what the room would have been.  The fixtures and fittings are very much retrofitted into architecture that pre-dates the time of play by quite a few decades.  We had fun with the propping of the show and the research that involved.  Some of the apparatus mentioned was quite tricky to find, believe it or not...  It’s a period I absolutely love so it was a joy to re-create.  As for costumes,  these are very much on the real thing,  which again is a fantastic portal into a period of history which fascinates many,  including myself.

The weather charts feature prominently and really give a sense of scale to the operation. What was the research process for gathering them and how did you go about presenting them in this way?
There is actual evidence of the charts from the time.  A lot of time and research from historians helped to provide ample information on these charts and what they looked like.  This in conjunction with David Haig’s script and descriptions within the text also helped to draw the various maps up —  from which points they went to a graphic designer to re-create them as best we could.  David (Haig) worked very closely with the props department in the first place to make sure what was written was also what we saw and made the storytelling as clear and simple as it could be.

Do you have a favourite scene?
The scene I love should have a major Spoiler Alert attached to it.  You’ll know it when you see it.  It’s thrilling and so simple and so earned and so so beautiful.

How did you become a designer and what advice do you have for somebody considering it?
I had always been interested in set design and costume from a young age but it never manifested itself into anything until I discovered you could train in it.  Then cut to three years of study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. 

I would advise anyone taking it up to not think about it lightly.  It’s hard to get the breaks initially and can be both financially and emotionally draining.  It requires a good sense of humour,  a lot of your personal time, a passion and drive and a very understanding partner.  That all being said,  I’m actually fulfilling my childhood aspiration and grateful every day for that.

Pressure opens at Cambridge Arts Theatre, where it plays from 1 to 10 February 2018. It then tours to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Guildford, Cheltenham, Bath and Richmond. 

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