Q&A: Rhys

The designer of Pilot Theatre's live production of
The Machine Stops, EM Forster's prophetic sci-fi
novel, which visits Huddersfield this month

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Can you talk us through the stages you have gone through in the design process for The Machine Stops?
Designing for theatres can be a lengthy process, especially with a play like this because it’s set in a fictional place, so you don’t really have the anchor of being able to look up on the internet the place in which it’s set and know exactly how that looks. This process is much more about taking elements of the piece and finding out what they’re inspired by, I suppose, and finding visual languages for those things to represent on stage. It’s really a way of creating our own world, so that’s kind of been one of the biggest challenges of it: trying to create that language for telling this piece takes quite a long time. And so you try things and they fail, and you try other things and those things sometimes fail but then some things will be successful and it’s those successful things that you take further, and eventually you start piecing this puzzle together.

Were there any particular aspects to this story that inspired you?
Yeah, from the first time I read it actually, I thought it was really interesting. When I look at my portfolio of stuff I’ve made in the last eight years, a lot of my work is quite conceptual. It’s quite weird, it’s not necessarily that clear, it’s quite ambiguous stuff. I do a lot of work with physical theatre, so there are a lot of worlds that are created and suggested but they’re not necessarily prescribed as they would be in a normal play. A lot of my work is that kind of stuff, so when I read this play and realised that this was a piece that could kind of fit into that category, I found that really compelling, and you just realise that there’s so much you could do with it, and I think that’s what’s interesting about it. Yes, there’s really wonderful things inside it, like there are themes that people could get really excited about, which to a degree I do, but I think it’s having the freedom with a piece like this that’s really compelling – knowing that you can draw on so many different things for inspiration.

How did you become a designer?
I always liked doing art in school and I did a foundation in art and design which I loved, and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I liked doing everything – drawing, sculpting, taking photographs, everything. Theatre seemed like this opportunity to use all of those different practices in one kind of discipline really, so that’s why I think I do it because it gives me this platform to create stuff that you can use a whole range of skills and you know you can be pretty wild with the stuff you manage to create.

Do you have any advice for any younger people who might be thinking about becoming a designer?
I think it’s a very difficult road, a very difficult career path, but it’s a very wonderful career path. If you’re a creative person you have to choose a career where you can be creative, otherwise you will never be happy, I think that’s true. If you’re going to be a designer, I think just keep creating, keep making your art, keep making your work and I think that the best designs are probably the people with the most creative minds, so if you can train your brain now in whatever you’re doing to push all those boundaries and to find creative solutions to whatever your task is, that’s the best kind of place to start for theatre really. And don’t worry about all the university stuff or career path yet, just enjoy it I think. It has to come out of a place of enjoyment, the work, otherwise what’s the point?

The Machine Stops is at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield 28-29 March

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