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Building the Woods: Creating props, puppets and a magical set

Anyone who has seen a GMT show before will know that we are not fond of complicated, fiddly sets. We prefer the minimalist approach, with as little disruption to the main event as possible. So how to go about creating a fairy-tale wonderland in a limited - and totally new - theatrical space? The famous Regent’s Park open-air production of Into the Woods had the benefit of real woodland for their lavish staging, but GMT’s resident designer Nicola Coffield favours the DIY-approach. With previous company craft credits including a large-scale man-eating plant, a glittery, gold, 70’s backdrop and countless random props (many of which have become the stuff of legend among company regulars), we were eager to get some of the insider scoop from the gal herself, about exactly what goes on behind the scenes of a GMT production...

GMT: So Nicky, the staging of Into the Woods is very different to GMT's previous productions. How did you go about creating a fairy tale land on a budget?

Nicky: We wanted to keep things simple but effective, partly because of the budget, but partly because we were in a brand new space, and it meant we could keep things as flexible as possible. We’d built rostra for The Threepenny Opera that were perfect to re-dress, and thanks to the experience of making a hobby horse from cardboard for the same show, I was determined to make this a ‘found objects’ production. Thankfully, I’m a total hoarder, as is my Dad, so I’ve raided quite a few cupboards and ‘odds and sods’ boxes along the way. That and I can’t walk past any sort of pound shop or hardware aisle without looking for things to convert.

Did you base the set on any one of the worlds in the featured fairy-tales, or is it totally new?

N: Rapunzel’s Tower is the only feature from fairy-tale land that we’ve built into the set, though hopefully ours will be a bit different to the normal sort of tower one might expect. Granny’s cottage from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is also in there, though we’ve opted for our own take on the Open Air Theatre’s rather fabulous interpretation of that scene. Everything else takes place in the woods, but woods that you’ll definitely know are inside a fairy-tale book! I’m not sure how much I can give away about the finished product yet.

What was the most difficult part of the set to create?

N: Probably Rapunzel’s Tower – as Ciadhra is taller than me, I’m having to do a lot of guesstimation on ladders to make sure she’ll be able to see out of it properly! That, and generally finding space in my flat to build things. Luckily I have a big flat and a patient boyfriend, though I think he’s going to find a lot of the show very familiar when he comes to see it!

Was it difficult to design a set for a space that has never been used as a theatre before?

N: We did know that the space would be laid out similar to other ‘black box’ theatres, with the performance area on the floor, directly in front of raked seating, so our main challenge was figuring out where entrances and exits would be coming from. We decided early on to keep the set fairly static with four key areas so we could be fairly confident that it could adapt to whatever the new space could throw at us.

What would you like the audience's first impression of the set to be?

N: “Ooh, how did they make that?”

Are you using any real foliage?

N: That may be a last minute artistic decision. None is planned right at this moment, but the hedge in my front garden is getting a bit unwieldy…

Into the Woods runs Tues 7 - Sat 11 May 2013, at the new Cottiers Kelvinbridge @The Lansdowne.

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