Lez Brotherston on Designing Romeo and Juliet

22 August 2019
Lez Brotherston
Credit: Roy Tan

Lez Brotherston is a New Adventures Associate Artist and has been a Set and Costume Designer for many of our shows. Read his interview, written by Hannah Osmond, below to find out what it was like to design Matthew Bourne's World Premiere production of Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet is perhaps one of the most frequently staged stories of all time; being interpreted by directors all over the world through theatre, film and dance production. What has it felt like to be taking on such a well-known and much-loved tale?

I did the design for Romeo and Juliet for Christopher Gable and Northern Ballet Theatre over 20 years ago and I began working on a production of it with Teddy* in Japan before he got injured; so it’s a piece I know quite well. The score is great, and it’s fun to now have had the opportunity to reimagine it with Matt.

*(Tetsuya ‘Teddy’ Kumakawa – a Japanese ballet dancer and former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet)

Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) and Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) - Capulet Company
Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) and Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) - Capulet Company Credit: Johan Persson

You have worked on many of New Adventures’s productions over the years. How has it been working on a brand-new show with Matthew once again and what was your starting point for it design-wise?

We spoke about where we might set the show, and Matt didn’t want to set it in Renaissance Italy. He very much wanted to give it a different spin, so we talked about the idea of setting it in some kind of institute. We didn’t know if it was a prison or a remand centre or a reform home – or anything really. We felt it could be any kind of institute whereby the young people have lost their freedom and have to abide by rules. Then after researching institutes and looking at things, we came up with the idea of the Verona Institute, which could be sufficiently vague for people not to really know what it is – whether it’s a prison, or a hospital or correction facility or whatever. It’s purposefully vague and is just a place where the movements of the young people are restricted.

With the show being set in an institute can you tell us how that has informed and inspired the colour palette that you have used?

Once you’ve set up a logic for it and once you’ve set those parameters you need to stick with it otherwise the audience won’t understand it. So, given that we’ve set it in an institute we needed there to be some kind of uniform but we didn’t want it to be a school uniform or a prison uniform or hospital gowns, so we just came up with a look that was right for the boys and the girls, which were the trousers. And in terms of the palette keeping it white kept it ‘clean’ and kind of antiseptic. It could be (interpreted as) a hospital, or it could be a mental health facility. Really it could be anything, and so keeping it uniform and minimal helps to tell us what the institute might be. It may mean different things to different people at different times, depending on who is watching the show and when and that’s what we want to happen.

The Montague Company
The Montague Company Credit: Johan Persson

Can you also tell us about the design and structure of the stage and set and how you have managed to capture the heavy presence of an institute within the parameters of a touring show?

The set doesn’t change size from venue to venue and I’ve just taken a mean average of the various stage sizes from the venues that we’re going to and designed the biggest possible set that I can within those parameters. It’s simply a wall defining a semi-circular room so it’s an amazingly simple set. It’s not very complicated and there are no moving parts. The only things we have to get on (during the show) are a couple of beds and a desk.

Romeo and Juliet - The Capulet Company
Romeo and Juliet - The Capulet Company Credit: Johan Persson

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