"I am finding a new way to make theatre visual," says William Dudley, the designer of Terry Johnson's latest play, Hitchcock Blonde, which had its world premiere at the Royal Court in London in April and is now moving to the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue. Dudley, who has live actors interacting with 3D software, brings the production to life. "We can't afford big physical sets - everyone has scaled-down budgets so we can scale down seat prices."
Dudley's set designs involve projecting computer-generated video images on to blank walls, which transform productions into visual feasts, and add a whole new language to theatre. "What I'm trying to do is to give theatre some of the freedom that modern movies have, particularly for younger people who, beyond school trips, don't see much theatre."
The play examines the notion of obsession and genius, as well as Alfred Hitchcock's notable weakness for the fairer sex. "In his films he subjects them to terrible nightmares, strains and shocks - there is no real explanation for it other than his life's work of film," says Dudley. In a play set across three time zones - 1999, 1959 and 1919, with a different blonde for each - Dudley's approach to theatre comes in handy. "It gives the audience a clear idea of where they are in space and time."
In 1999, a lecturer called Alex, played by David Haig, and his favourite pupil, Nicola (Fiona Glascott) - obviously blonde - set about restoring a film they suspect to be an early 1919 Hitchcock, featuring yet another blonde (Victoria Gay) and Hitchcock (Alexander Delamere) while they stay on an imaginary Greek island called Kalithi. "You zoom over it - there is computer-generated blue sea and sky - and then you come round to where the scene is set, in this villa with projected doors that the actors can walk through," says Dudley.
But the lecturer, like Hitchcock, develops a weakness for blondes. At one point, the present-day blonde (his pupil) is projected into the water of a shower on stage. "Water can hold a pretty clear video image," says Dudley, who employs a similar technique elsewhere in the play. "The shower scene is very moving. Haig tries to grab at the object of his desire." The audience is then transported to a high-rise hotel suite in Los Angeles, in 1959, where Hitchcock, played by William Hootkins, is auditioning another blonde (Rosamund Pike) for the part of Janet Leigh's Psycho body-double. How far does she have to go to become an actress?
"The scene changes are so fast - too fast to get a chair or table off the stage," says Dudley, who designed Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia last year, and is soon to design David Hare's The Permanent Way (about the recent spate of railway disasters). "Good editing can do it in movies, but here we have the kick of live actors. I find it fascinating. Actually, I have fallen in love with it."
'Hitchcock Blonde', Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (0870-890 1107)
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