Up Close: Brave New World Props

Up Close: Brave New World Props

26 November 2015

by Charlotte Bee

'600 years into the future, who’s going to be using a telephone or iPad?' Blackpool Young Reporter Charlotte Bee goes backstage on Brave New World to get an insight on the props used in the show. 

Charlotte Bee wears feely glasses backstage So I got the chance to interview Associate Producer Neale Birch on Wednesday afternoon!
He asked me about myself, and we had a chat about the theatre and all the jobs involved in theatre that aren’t just acting or performing. With this being my first solo interview, he made me feel at ease and was a pleasure to talk to. He gave very detailed answers, which was brilliant as I definitely felt well informed and had enough to work with, and learnt a lot about the show I would never have known otherwise!

I enjoyed seeing the set and getting to view all the props close-up, as well as having the chance to do some photography. The Grand Theatre stage is one of my favourite places to be, so it was so interesting to see it with a proper set on the stage and with all the props there! I was particularly surprised about the laboratory desks being on tracks!


On average, how many props are used in the show, and have they changed since the production began?
There is one thing that has changed, and they are the feely glasses. They’re not actually glasses, they’re just frames, but they have lights on them and the idea is that the characters are seeing the picture through these glasses and are getting a complete sensory experience. The lights on the glasses were originally blue, but they eventually ran down so we had to replace them, and we stopped getting the blue lights but we had a full set of green glasses, and because we were going to be struggling to replace the blue ones for very much longer, the designer approved the green, and so we switched, and we’ve used the green ones ever since.

Production shot showing the glasses in original blueProduction shot showing the glasses in original blue

Which prop is the most likely to cause problems during the show?
We have scenes that involve whipping, and they are quite long leather bullwhips, and potentially, there are problems because you have to get the timing and positioning exactly right, as if it's wrong, you could cause someone physical harm. The ends of the whips also get frayed and we have to keep repairing those. 

Other things that are potentially dangerous, are glass pieces in the production.If you drop a glass, it will shatter on stage and you’ll have to clean it up before you can continue. You would normally have plastic, but for whatever reason, the team in Northampton wanted to go with glass. We’ve been very fortunate, we haven’t had any accidents on stage yet, but it’s something that we’re all conscious of being potentially dangerous and spoiling a moment.

Prop! Neale Birch with the whipThe whip used in the show 

Props! Glass used in the production to showcase strange food substances Glass used in the production to showcase strange food substances

Which props would you say are the most vital in the actor’s performances in terms of realism?
One of the things that was very much in our thinking was how we presented the future, it's very important that we don’t spend too much time explaining the future. 600 years into the future, who’s going to be using a telephone or iPad? We had to use something that the audience recognised and would accept as technologically advanced. A couple of the characters use a Perspex rectangular piece that looks like an iPad and just by holding that screen, the audience immediately accepts that it's an iPad. The feely and lab glasses that we use are very basic, but the way that we use them on stage makes the audience accept that it's hugely advanced technology.

Props! Babies are grown in glass jars!

Babies are grown in glass jars!

I also got the chance to ask Neale a few more general questions about the show, starting with: did you have a certain vision for how the show would be presented, and how has it progressed?
In terms of vision, the creative presentation is down to the Designer (Naomi Dawson) and Director (James Dacre). The essential thing is that it's effective and tells a story clearly, but also that it’s tourable, so that the resources and staffing are able to manage whatever is created. We don’t want to limit the design, but there are going to be limits on budget as it’s not infinite. There’s a specific time element in terms of the initial mounting of the production, it has to be built on time and with the right materials that are affordable, and then we have a certain amount of time allowing for fitting.

In terms of staffing, we are limited to how much staff we can take on tour. One of the elements in this production that has been particularly challenging has been the visuals and the projections, which has required staff that we wouldn’t normally have on tour with us. With regard to vision, we don’t want to limit directors and designers, we want to allow them to be creative but we have to place restraints on them based on our own capabilities.

Props table backstage

Props table backstage on Brave New World

Which moment in the show do you think the audience is most moved by?
I think the moment that might move people the most, and certainly that I feel moved by every time I see it, is the moment in which John takes the Soma and then makes love to Lenina. The feeling that I have, and that I’m sure lots of people have, is one of regret; we don’t want John to take the soma, and we know how he will feel when the soma wears off.

The savage reservation is enjoyable, and I think audiences are enjoying the dinner party scene because of the characterisation, and I think it was great that we were able to find a lot of humour in the piece. It's a very thought-provoking production, and people rather than really enjoying it, are made to think and question and wonder about it, and that’s probably a good thing.  

Brave New World premieres at Royal and Derngate, Northampton, where it runs from 4 to 26 September 2015. It then tours to Edinburgh, Blackpool, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Bradford where it concludes on 5 December.