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Curve Theatre & His Dark Materials

I was invited to see a community production of “His Dark Materials” by my friend Lili Rogue. Having not visited this new theatre building (I was in communication with their press office about a formal visit as the basis for an article for sceno.org and Society of British Theatre Designers Blue Pages magazine – but it never materialised) I jumped at the chance. The show was designed by Nettie Scriven who steps down from the NTU Theatre Design course this year (After possibly 20 or more years?) I’ve seen Nettie’s work on a number of occasions bot before and after I met her at NTU. Her designs are honest, accessible, and wonderfully creative. “His Dark Materials” was no different and any thoughts I had about the design being unable to compete with the Hollywood version (Golden Compass) were soon forgotten as Nettie’s design took the audience on a magical adventure.

The Curve is the UK’s newest theatre building (and possibly the last for some time) It’s received a mix press in places but all in all it’s an interesting if not at times impractical architectural theatre design. Lili was working on the show as Design Assistant so after curtain fall we we’re treated to a quick tour of the building, side stepping the odd disgruntled stage manager (They we’re trying to get read for the get out and didn’t really have time for a tour – but thanks to them all the same!)

The building is designed to allow the public as much access to the theatre as possible. With much of the scenic paintshop and wardrobe on public display (Although it should be noted the curve don’t actually build anything themselves or paint their own scenery so it felt a little “affected” and staged) Their are two theatre spaces, a large proscenium stage and a multi format studio space with an “Iron” separating the two. Nettie made good use of this at the end of “His Dark Materials” when the Iron was lifted and the central character walked off into the alternate reality of the studio… the extra sense of depth was quite impressive.

The theatre is well equipped with a fully automated flying system and an impressive lighting rig. However wing space is very limited and while it’s true that the sides of the wings may be opened up to the foyer, using it to move off and on large scenic elements  during a performance must have some “noise” implications… and where would you store the pieces during pre-show or the interval?

The foyer, bar and cafe share a space with the wardrobe, offices and dressing rooms. While you are waiting for a show or simply having a coffee during a shopping trip into Leicester you might catch a glimpse of the wardrobe at work or an actor. It’s an interesting insight into the theatre world but a number of the staff I spoke to expressed some frustration at the practicalities of having to travel between public and non public spaces on a daily basis: it’s particulalry hard to use a secure swipe card when carrying a model-box, lighting gear or a handful of costumes. And already it seems that the management and admin offices have erected screens to hide themselves away from the public.

Aesthetically the Foyer is impressive, if not dimly lit in the daytime – though things tend to brighten up a bit in the evening. If you are in or around the East Midlands of the UK it’s definitely worth a visit.

Website www.curveonline.co.uk The website seems to break apart a bit in Safari and Firefox on the mac!

Apologies for the photo quality – they were taken on my phone.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Curve Theatre & His Dark Materials

  1. I’d very much like to visit the Curve sometime, it sounds most intriguing, but maybe an architects vision rather than a theatre practioners? I’m sure Nettie Scriven’s design was well worth the visit. I remember her work from PQ99 as being very personaland imaginative.

    Posted by Martin Morley | July 22, 2009, 9:49 pm
  2. It’s certainly worth a visit Martin. ABTT did a tour early this year. I was thinking of arranging a similar event for SBTD members, I’ll keep an eye on who’s designing their and if it turns out to be a member i’ll see what I can arrange.

    If I’d thought about it sooner it would have made sense to tie it in with Netties work!

    Posted by martin | July 23, 2009, 9:38 am

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