Hudson, Richard (3 of 7) An Oral History of Theatre Design
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2006-12-15, 2007-07-25, 2008-04-04
Interviewee's studio, London
Hudson, Richard 1954- (speaker, male)
Wright, Elizabeth (speaker, female)
Part 3: Mention that paternal grandfather was called John Hudson. Tutors at WSA who were important to RH; HK ‘Passion’ by Edward Bond directed by HK; keeping in touch with HK after college. Tutors who taught various disciplines; MS who taught dying and painting; working for MS after college; Gertrude Faffinger who taught prop making; health and safety issues; using chemicals; Samco and Acetone. [0:02:43] Students on WSA course with RH; mention of Peter Farley; Francesca Harwood who ran dying department at the Royal Opera House [ROH]; Jilly Dixon who ran the costume department at the English National Opera [ENO] and worked on costumes at the Millennium Dome; Terry Bartlett [TB] who was a skilled designer and draughtsman; his work for the Royal Ballet soon after graduating; disappearance after that; Steve Meade. Comment that RH is the only person from his class who is still a theatre designer. [0:04:15] Aspirations while at WSA; interest in opera; realisation of the freedom and opportunities that opera provides for the designer. Assisting Nicholas Georgiadis [NG] for seven or eight years; work with NG for Nureyev and Kenneth MacMillan. Mention of working with NG in Boston, Paris, Zurich, Vienna, Stockholm; love of travelling; wanting to be an international designer. Story about how RH first worked as assistant to NG after returning books on behalf of Martin Kahmer [MK] who he was then assisting; working for NG for a long time; except for times working for Ba Higgins [BH], MS or in fringe theatre; learning from NG. Assisting YS; model making; learning to solder; YS’s cats. Contrast between working with NG and YS. Improving model making as an assistant; learning how to behave in a costume fitting from NG and YS; musical education; getting to know opera; NG’s enthusiasm for Rossini and early Handel operas. Working on costumes for BH; making appliqued Chinese robes. [0:11:37] Finding fringe theatre work; designing operas for music colleges: Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Royal College of Music [RCM], Royal Northern College of Music; working with Graham Vick [GV] and Richard Jones. Designing Massenet’s ‘Manon’ for RCM; challenges of this. Designing Cimarosa’s ‘The Secret Marriage’ for RCM; use of 1950s costume hired from Sheila Buckland; learning about using real clothes; working with a team to make the costumes. RH’s approach to designing ‘Manon’; meetings; starting by painting rather than in the model. RH’s living arrangements at this time; house in Chelsea; living with brother in Hammersmith; moving to current studio, previously belonging to NG; living in the studio and then moving to a flat nearby. [0:16:55] Development of RH’s work; co-designing operas with YS; opera in Italy; ‘Euridice’ at Riverside Studios; being asked to work at Cambridge Opera Group then Scottish Opera [SO] with GV; still working with GV thirty years later. Collaboration with YS; story about doing costume drawings together; working on costumes with YS on hot days in Italy; feelings about the opera, ‘Platee’ by Rameau; animal costumes. [0:20:30] Accepting all work early in career; seeing bad as well as good theatre. Inspirational design; mention of Caspar Neher’s design for ‘Wozzeck’ at ROH; mention of NG’s designs for Sleeping Beauty for Nureyev at the Festival Ballet at the London Coliseum; old productions at ROH; Visconti’s ‘Don Carlos’; David Hockney’s designs. Mention of seeing work at the Royal Court [RC]: Deirdre Clancy; William Dudley; Peter Gill. Finding own style after leaving WSA; approach to costume drawings; reduction in size of costume drawings over time; benefits of carefully worked out costume drawings. Building a reference library; influence of NG, YS and MK on this; collecting images from newspapers. [0:25:50] Designing La Vie Parisienne [LVP] for SO, choreographed by Bruno Tonioli; working with first large budget; asking friends to make costume and props; dealing with wigs and jewellery; having shoes made. Working in Scotland; approach to set design for LVP; painted cyclorama; scrapping ideas. Preparing for a first meeting with a director; developing a shorthand with directors; being surprised by GV on ‘The Makropulus Case’ [MC]. Keeping a sketchpad, a file and a notebook for each production. Working with shoes and wigs for the first time; asking for help; the importance of seeming to know what he is talking about; working with difficult people; being prepared; owning up to mistakes. Parents visit to see MC; reading reviews, Response to RH’s work in opera reviews; attention to design in reviews for work with Richard Jones [RJ]. [0:35:56] Story about writing to Jonathan Miller [JM] at the Old Vic [OV]; his invitation to design eight productions at OV plus ‘The Emperor’ upstairs at RC. Mention of ‘Don Carlos’ with Nicholas Hytner [NH] at the Manchester Royal Exchange [MRE] with Michael Grandage as Don Carlos and Ian McDiarmid as the King; NH’s comment that RH would be incarcerated at the OV. Team RH worked with at OV; Wendy Griffiths; Michael Ward. Mention that ‘Too Clever by Half’ was directed by RJ; all other productions directed by JM; ‘Candide’ was a co-production with SO. Mention of winning the Olivier Award after that season; RH aged about 32. Productions in OV season including ‘The Tempest’ and ‘King Lear’; feelings about OV space; proscenium arch theatres; MRE space; slate floor. Learning from designing Jacobean period; costume; armour. [0:42:58] Working relationship with costume supervisors; importance of this role; difficulties of modern dress; working with photographs of the company; working with singers and their preferences. Mention of Helen Field in ‘Manon’ who preferred not to wear corsets; male singers who prefer loose collars; singers compared to actors. [0:50:06] The benefits of building up a relationship with the OV; use of budget; stock of costumes; teamwork. Olivier Award ceremony; fear of appearing in public; leaving for Russia with RJ the following day; the effect of winning; the curse of winning the Tony Award. Not wanting to be pigeon-holed as a designer; bad luck with dance projects; designing a ballet for the Royal Ballet in 2008. Story about going to visit Maly Theatre in Moscow with RJ; seeing their production of ‘Too Clever by Half’; feelings about Moscow; hotel. [58:40] Starting to work at the Royal Shakespeare Company [RSC]; ‘The Master Builder’. Opera work; ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ [TOH] in Vienna directed by Andre Serban [AS]; mention of working at the Almeida Theatre. Comment that TOH was a hit. Mention of Placido Domingo; Bryn Terfel; Natalie Dessay. ‘Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg’ [MSN] with GV at ROH. Mention that MB was at the Barbican, directed by Adrian Noble; RSC as a company to work for. Mention of designing for RSC at Barbican: ‘Clockwork Orange’; MB; ‘Travesties’; feelings about Barbican theatre space; the building. Designing for the RSC at Stratford; current RSC attitude to design; reconfiguration of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre into a thrust; anti-design feeling; emphasis on the actor. Working for large companies; benefits of having things made in-house; problems of off-site workshops. Theatre community in other counties; meeting designers at OISTAT meetings. [1:06:34] First entry to the Prague Quadrennial [PQ] with Anthony MacDonald , Nigel Lowery, Joe Vanek, Tim O’Brien; winning the Golden Triga. Socialising with other designers; designers as nice people; finding assistants; working with the same assistants for several years; current assistants, Justin and Mauricio; fitting in their own design work. The benefits of working with younger people. Contents of RH’s letter to JM; letters RH receives today; being sent pieces of model making; number of design students today; judging the Linbury Prize. Teaching at WSA; lectures at Slade School of Art; Royal Welsh College; talk at PQ; feeling more confident about giving talks; lecture tour in Japan. Impression of design education in Japan; workshop to re-design a Noh play; sense of Japanese design tradition; reasons why RH’s work is popular in Japan; their response to RH’s design for ‘The Ring Cycle’ [RC]. Problems in British design education due to number of students. [1:18:22] ‘Night at the Chinese Opera’ [NCO] by Judith Weir [JW], directed by RJ for Kent Opera [KO]; working on a new piece with JW; ‘The Vanishing Bridegroom’ [VB] by JW at SO directed by choreographer Ian Spink. Input of JW in terms of the design; borrowing a book of fairytales from JW; working with composers who are not visual; JW as an exception to this. Consideration for how an opera has previously been staged; watching previous productions of Shakespeare; new plays by DL set in Zimbabwe and the Balkans. Visiting Chinese library to research NCO; looking at Chinese magazines; researching VB; influence of Scottish landscape on set design. Venues for staging KO productions; mention that company was run by Norman Platt. RH’s feelings about designing tours; consideration for different venues; involving the production manager; problems of working on large operas overseas. Problems with design for ‘La Forza Del Destino’ [FDD] in Vienna; developments in the design; ‘Samson and Delilah’ for the Metropolitan Opera [MO] in new York. Mention that MO and Glyndebourne pay for models; subsidising companies by financing the model; cost of changing a model because of director’s ideas; British directors expecting to see a model; difference in quality models in Britain; making computer models in the future. [1:34:59] Being represented by an agent; Kenneth Cleveland; Judy Daish; finding jobs through directors rather than an agent. Having a patch of time without much work; having too much work; working hours; taking time off. [1:38:57] First showing of a model to the company; presenting models for triple bill in Athens. Importance of photographing the model; keeping models. Involving builders in the process of set design; meetings with costume department; approaches to building in different countries; cost of manual labour; cost of building sets in Romania; old-fashioned building techniques in Italy. Use of corrugated plastic to cover flats; speculation about building methods in Athens. Use of stage technology in ‘The Lion King’ [LK]; RH’s old-fashioned approach; unsuccessful use of video and film onstage. Use of video for design of ‘Death in Venice’ at Bregenz. Lighting technology; choice of lighting designers. Designing both sets and costume; not feeling part of the company if not designing costumes.
Life story interview with Richard Hudson (1954-), theatre designer.