PRODUCTION NOTES / The set of The Kitchen: Mark Thompson, the designer who ripped out 140 seats at the Royal Court

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The Independent Culture
'Stephen Daldry (director) was very keen to make the production of The Kitchen an event. He is renowned for big theatrical ideas - theatre with a big 'T' - and he came to me and said 'Will you do The Kitchen? I've got an idea that I'd like to push it out over the stalls and involve the theatre.' So the idea of putting scaffolding over the stalls came early on and was the crux of the whole design.

'We knew that there were going to be some monetary implications - they know they're not going to make any money from this production and it's only been made possible because they have the production of Oleanna in town to underwrite the loss. But they were obviously very keen that we should squeeze in as many seats back round on to the stage as possible. Here Stephen and I thought it very important that the people on the stage shouldn't just feel they are on the wrong side, like second- class citizens, and that's where the idea of an arena came from.

'The way the play is written is with a multitude of private conversations in a number of spaces. We cut through all that. Originally we were thinking we might have to divide the space more, to have conversations in various corners, but during rehearsals Stephen found it best to throw the play across the set from actor to actor, so we decided on a central runway with all the conversations and activity being in the middle.

'One of the reasons why this central station is quite a good idea is because there is such a large cast (28) and you can cram everyone in and then can keep the waitresses away from that.

'As soon as the idea was hatched, everyone in the theatre was remarkably supportive. We had some preliminary meetings with scaffolders, just to see how difficult it was and what the cost implications were. And then the Court worked terribly hard - tilers had to come in to work through four or five nights - and the set took a week to get in, but it was remarkably painless.

'The design was all in the conception. The set was actually designed quite quickly, it was quite easy to formulate. It wasn't a case of 'What am I going to do here?' because the play demands a certain sort of realism or naturalism. It's not like you're inventing some art space for a Shakespeare.'

'The Kitchen': Royal Court SW1 (071-730 1745) to 2 April.

(Photograph omitted)