The brief for the design of Emilia was two-fold: one was the information and conceptual elements that came from Morgan [Lloyd Malcolm], the writer, and Nicole [Charles], the director; and the other was having to work within the building and reflect the architecture, because the Globe itself is used as an actual location in the play. So we had the task of bringing both the conceptual and tangible influences into one coherent design.
In terms of working with Morgan and Nicole, I think the inspiration for the whole piece comes from the character of Emilia herself and her historical and fictionalised journey playing in parallel with a lot of the journeys that creative, outspoken and intelligent women still face today. There are unsurprisingly quite a lot of themes and ideas in Emilia that are timeless. The audience and the play are obviously divided by centuries, so there’s a really nice visual paradox that we’re playing with in the language of the set design and the costumes.
Staging the play for this theatre is a wonderful thing because the crescendo of Emilia’s journey takes place at the Globe Theatre. It’s an incredible scene which I think essentially dictated the design and the costume.
We wanted to reflect the patriarchy of the written word in the design. You’ll see on the stage there are a lot of tall, stacked, hard-to-reach bookcases which are inhabited by recognised old tomes that represent the institution or those who have been recognised and held in history. That is how we visualised that battle and inequality within the perceived hierarchy and the patriarchal nature of language at the time.
I’ve tried to feminise the architecture of the Globe. The thrust stage comes out into the audience. We’ve made it even more democratic and accessible to represent the fight Emilia is trying to fight, but it’s fun as we’ve got a space that is coming out into the groundlings and we’re going to try and involve them in part of the performance. It also means you can lose yourself in the set designs, and equally reminds you that this building was essentially built for the majesty of Shakespeare’s work, and what it must have meant to be a woman with a voice but not to have been recognised to the same degree.
I’ve done nearly 50 costume fittings in the last three weeks! What’s wonderful about the costumes is that we’re trying to draw parallels between London 2018 and Elizabethan England. We’re playing with traditional costuming shapes and structures with a stylised flare that allows you to see past the embellishment, and lets you focus more on the structures as well as the presentation of gender.
We have an amazing cast made up entirely of women so there’s a lot of playing with gender. Dressing the female cast members up as some of these quite horrific male characters has been fantastically enjoyable actually and the cast has really taken to it.
All the ‘Bankside women’ in the play have the structures of traditional costume, but we’ve made it all out of very modern workwear materials such as denim, utility cottons and we’ve tried to make parallels with modern fashion such as the French blue work overcoat that you’ll pass many times on Shoreditch High Street. They’ve all got a similar colour palette which Emilia also wears, and so when she moves from the court to Bankside, it appears that she slots in immediately with these women. Nicole describes that moment as Emilia finally finding her tribe. Everyone in court is really structured and corseted, and then when we get to Bankside everyone is looser and freer, and it feels like a more comfortable and safe world to explore their identities.
One of the things that has struck me most throughout the process is how brilliant and talented the backstage team are here. They have such a wealth of knowledge that is unrivalled. They helped mould the design into what it is with the correct historical context.
Jo Scotcher is the Designer of Emilia and the winner of the Whatsonstage ‘Best Set Designer’ award, 2011.
All images: Jo Scotcher.