domingo, 20 de abril de 2008

The Motley Theatre Design Course and Jocelyn Herbert

I think it is fare to say that whilst in London I came in contact with two giants of the theatre world who were the kindest and sweetest ladies and both have sadly passed away. Whilst both were much older than myself their calm manner and clear vision had a major influence on my dealings with people and friends. I adored Jocelyn and am sure that if it had not been that I was very happily married to jacky I would have persued Jocelyn for many years as one does when finding an idol. Percy was a lady that had achieved everything even before I met her, success was the past and she was involved with her school and the occasional re-vamp of her sets at the opera house. Here are two seperate write ups on both ladies.
Motley Theatre Design Course The Motley Theatre Design Course was formerly known as the Sadler's Wells Design Course and the Theatre Design Course of the English National Opera.

In 1966 Stephen Arlen, then Managing Director of Sadler's Wells Opera, and Margaret 'Percy' Harris, at that time resident designer of the company, launched the Design Course based on the approach to design of the Old Vic School where they had both worked under the direction of Michel St. Denis, Glen Byam Shaw and George Devine. The Course started in a small room in a house near Sadler's Wells Theatre with eight students, amongst whom were Hayden Griffin, Carol Lawrence, Susie Caulcutt and Derek Nicholson, all of whom have made a name in the theatre.

In 1969 the school moved to a space at the top of Sadler's Wells Theatre. This was taken over by the Design Course and ran there for a further two years. In 1971 the school then moved to Camperdown House where it remained under the name and sponsorship of the English National Opera until 1981 when the sponsorship was withdrawn.

In September 1981 the Course moved to the Riverside Studios, then under the direction of David Gothard. This move was most advantageous, as the aims and training of the school were very much in line with the Riverside policies, through which the Course developed further ideas and flexibility. When this period came to an end the Course, after some time at the Almeida Theatre and the Royal National Theatre Studio, became the Motley Theatre Design Course and moved to a warehouse in Covent Garden, where Alison Chitty joined Margaret Harris and Hayden Griffin as co-director. In 1994 the Course occupied its present excellent premises in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Sadly, in the year 2000, Margaret Harris died at the age of 95 after 70 years in the profession - 34 of those as founder and director of the Motley Theatre Design Course. The course continues at Drury Lane under the directorship of Alison Chitty (O.B.E.), with course tutors Ashley Martin-Davis and Anthony Lamble. Percy's vision for the school and her ideas about teaching and design remain central to the philosophy of the course.

Jocelyn Herbert

Last Updated: 10:35pm BST 08/05/2003

Jocelyn Herbert, who has died aged 86, was one of Britain's most influential post-war stage designers for nearly four decades.

Jocelyn Herbert's designs, which used a minimum of scenery and a maximum of lighting effects, achieved an admirably unforced balance between realism and surrealism. They led to the 1950s movement towards a kind of stage setting which drew attention to the actors and the writing rather than the stage itself.

From her earliest days with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre under George Devine to her successes three decades later at the National Theatre, she pioneered an artistic policy of close collaboration with authors and directors which flourished in plays by Arnold Wesker, David Storey and Tony Harrison, and in productions by Lindsay Anderson and John Dexter.


At the Royal Court, where the new wave of so-called angry young men brought British drama closer to 20th century reality - starting with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and Wesker's Roots - she designed more shows than any other artist. She was a champion of the writer-director-designer team system by which Devine set great store, and worked with Dexter on Wesker's first five plays, with Anderson on plays by Storey in a professional relationship that extended over 24 years, and with Tony Richardson on several of Osborne's works.

Luther was her most striking and highly-praised evocation of a historical period, evoking Osborne's idea of a "medieval world dressed up for the Renaissance". Using what Osborne himself described as "the brightest sunshine of colour, bold, joyful," her setting "burst upon the cramped, versatile stage of the Court, beckoning the spectator with a dazzling garden of earthly delights". Not only did it work, "it palpably took flight".

Noted for her sparse structure, gauzes, arches and shadows, Jocelyn Herbert's settings were cleverly lit by pools of light which created new areas of acting space, reflecting moods and atmosphere rather than photographic realism, and giving aesthetic precedence to the acting and text rather than stage pictures. Sometimes there would be only a bare stage and bare walls, on which any property or item of scenery acquired importance. Her concern for such economy prompted a growing belief that a bare stage was in itself beautiful.

Playgoers accustomed to the sumptuous decor and costumes of drawing room comedies and classical revivals in the West End of the 1940s and 1950s were made to sit up and respond to the stark simplicity of the Royal Court settings, which often exposed not only the stage and its walls but also the overhead lighting grid, formerly hidden from the audiences' view as unsightly.

Jocelyn Herbert had been much influenced by the visit to London in 1956 of Berthold Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, with its scanty scenery, bright lighting and rejection of realistic decor - save perhaps for a window, a chair, or a door as startling naturalistic objects on an otherwise empty stage. She became an exponent of the air-and-light school of stage design, which thrived on scenic austerity and a rejection of backcloths and painted scenes in favour of skimpy, suggestive three-dimensional decor. It was also an era of dedication to social realism, and, when it was required, as in the working class dramas of Wesker or the work-plays of Storey, the designer could provide it with a jolt.

In Storey's Changing Room the set not only looked like any changing room, but the lavatories on it were usable. In Wesker's Roots there was a kitchen sink out of the taps of which water flowed - hot or cold. Her best-remembered work, however, thrived on hints and allusions carefully chosen and more carefully lit - items of scenery which left the actors plenty of room to move or make an author's point without the distractingly ultra-realistic effects. For John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance she provided - memorably - three gravestones, a cross, a railing, a bench, a tree and a distant moon.

A daughter of A P Herbert, the playwright, novelist, humorist and parliamentarian, Jocelyn Herbert was born in London on February 22 1917 and educated at St Paul's Girls' School. After studying at André Hote's studio in Paris in the 1930s and at the Slade under the ballet designer Vladimir Palunin, she enrolled at Michel Saint-Denis's progressive London Theatre Studio just before the outbreak of war.

An intellectually fashionable training school for all the theatrical arts, it was run by the Frenchman on aesthetically rigorous lines. Not only did all pupils have to sew, act and paint scenery, they had also to practise a kind of amateur psychoanalysis which reduced many of them to tears. Saint-Denis, who trained his pupils to think of acting in more exalted terms than any job they could hope to find on British boards, was an awesome figure who gave his students what Jocelyn Herbert described as "a sense of direction not only in our work but in our lives".

His right-hand man was George Devine, who, 20 years later, was to start the epoch-making English Stage Company's regime at the Royal Court Theatre. Devine used Jocelyn Herbert's designs for the London Theatre School's experiments. When she dropped out of the professional theatre during the war to raise her family, the two kept in touch and as soon as Jocelyn Herbert returned to work in the 1950s she joined forces with Devine in Manchester for Frank Dunlop's Piccoli Theatre.

After the English Stage Company took over the Royal Court in 1956, Devine, as artistic director, took on Jocelyn Herbert, then aged 39, as scene painter. Her return to the stage was cramped. Working either under it or, if it was fine, in the yard outside, she never knew the luxury of a scenic workshop for her first year in Sloane Square. When one did become available - at World's End, Chelsea - it was to bring her the first chance to do the decor for a production, Ionesco's Chairs (1958). By then she and Devine were living together.

With the success of Wesker's Roots (1959), Herbert became the Royal Court's unofficial head of design. Four years later, as a trustee of the Central School of Arts and Crafts, which had built the Cochrane Theatre, Holborn, she discovered that its auditorium, which at night was used by students or rented out, was available in the daytime. Through her initiative it served for three years as the Royal Court Theatre Studio.

Among the many notable productions she designed from 1957 were The Kitchen, Happy Days and Home (with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud) at the Royal Court; at the National Theatre she was responsible for the decor in Laurence Olivier's Othello and Early Days, again starring Ralph Richardson, in which her illuminated screens proved that abstract subtlety could be just as effective as realism; other productions included The Seagull with Vanessa Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft in the West End. From 1967 she designed opera for Sadlers Wells, the Paris Opera, the Metropolitan, New York, and the Coliseum.

In the cinema she was production or costume designer on a number of pictures, including Tony Richardson's Tom Jones, Ned Kelly and Hotel New Hampshire, as well as If . . . , O Lucky Man! and Whales of August, directed by Lindsay Anderson.

Jocelyn Herbert, who died on May 6, married Anthony Lousada in 1937. The marriage was dissolved in 1960. She is survived by their son and three daughters
The daughter of A.P. Herbert, Jocelyn trained at the Slade and at the London Theatre Studio before the Second World War and from the 1950s until the 1970s was the key designer for the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, working on world premieres of plays which went on to be considered twentieth century classics. Her designs defined the first productions of plays by Arnold Wesker, John Osborne, David Storey and Samuel Beckett, and the close working relationships she forged at the Court with directors as diverse as Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and John Dexter led to collaborations in other spaces and on films such as ‘Tom Jones,’ If...’ and ‘O Lucky Man!’. Jocelyn’s last decades were enriched by a unique working partnership with the poet and playwright Tony Harrison, with whom she was developing a new production on the day that she died in May 2003.

Um comentário:

  1. Hi Stuart,

    Thanks, I've really enjoyed reading this and learning more about Jocelyn Herbert and why her work was, and still is, so important. I work as an Archivist with the Lindsay Anderson Collection at the University of Stirling
    and I've also visited the Jocelyn Herbert Archive in London
    I never had the privilege of seeing any of the play's they worked on together but you've really brought them to life in your writing!

    I have recently written a post about my visits to the Jocelyn Herbert Archive at