Interview with Designer Pip Runciman



What was your inspiration for the set and costume design of Much Ado About Nothing?

The Director James and I were inspired by the design style of contemporary kitsch minimal homes, restaurants and foyers, to create a space that suggests a summer playground for the rich. We wanted it to be visually appealing and familiar to the audience, slightly reminiscent of somewhere you might come across while on holiday; a posh bar, a hotel lobby or a fancy home.

Carefree and fun, yet as shown by the text also accompanied by some of the darker undertones associated with wealth and celebrity.Early concept sketch by Pip Runciman

Much Ado About Nothing is touring to 27 venues around Australia. How do you approach designing a set for so many different venues?

Something we learned from the last touring show that I did with Bell Shakespeare was that you need a set that’s self-contained; it exists without having to rely on the rest of the space. It stands up by itself, you just need to shift the masking according to the size of the venue. The set also needs to be bumped in very quickly; often the tour is in only in town for one night! The set is comprised of a series of steel frames that are bolted together, you start at one end and work your way towards the other, and the step units are contained within it.

What was the most challenging part of the design to achieve?

I spent a lot of time playing around with the curve of the set. I look at the images of my rough model and think it really hasn’t changed much, but I was fiddling with the curve until it felt right. James was keen to make sure there were levels for the cast to work with and we didn’t want the shape of the set to feel like it is all on the same plane. It’s also four metres tall and that was a challenge for our production team, they had to make sure it could fit into the touring truck before we locked off the final height of the design.

How do you work with the Director and the rest of the creative team to realise the design?

You have a preliminary meeting to get a sense of the direction the Director or the team wants to head in and then you go off and do research, hunt down reference images and come back and chat through specific parts of the script. You narrow your scope down and pinpoint things that stand out, either in the script, references or things you and the Director want to emphasise. Then you go back and rework it and distil it down, and rework it and distil it down again; it’s a process of elimination. Something that was really handy was knowing we wanted a curved set, and because it was touring that it had to be transportable, it’s a series of flat panels that are slotted together to look curved.

What is the most exciting moment for you as set and costume designer?

The most exciting moment is when you first see the set under show lighting, that’s usually when you start to go ‘oh, wow it’s a world.’ When it’s under work light I usually have a little freak out – I’ve spoken to a few designer friends about it and they all say they experience a similar thing – but as soon as you see show lights on it and the cast on stage you realise it’s (funnily enough) just like you imagined.

Much Ado About Nothing is touring Australia until November 2019. You can see when the production will be near you on our website.

Pip Runciman has worked extensively across the creative industries for the past 17 years as a production designer, event designer, set and costume designer and graphic artist. For Bell Shakespeare she was the designer for Just Macbeth! and The Comedy of Errors. Her other theatre credits include design for Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir, State Theatre Company of South Australia and Griffin Theatre Company. Pip was an associate designer for Priscilla: Queen of the Desert: The Musical in Milan and San Paolo and was scenic associate for the 60th anniversary production of My Fair Lady for Opera Australia. Pip’s event credits include Festival Designer for Sydney Festival from 2017 to 2019, Event Designer for Sydney New Years Eve 2007 to 2009 and Closing Ceremony Designer for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Other cultural event credits include work on White Night, Harvest Music Festival, Handa Opera on the Harbour, Vivid Sydney, Chinese New Year and the 2006 Commonwealth Games Ceremonies.