'I flirted with TV and film, but I found it deeply boring. I want to inspire an audience's imagination. The naturalism of TV cuts it short,' explains designer Paul Dart, who for 10 years has worked with director Mike Alfreds, initially with Shared Experience and latterly at Cambridge Theatre Company. No one could accuse their work of being naturalistic. 'We've developed a very peculiar shorthand and we can take more chances because we trust each other.'

Alfreds' work is famous for its fluidity. 'Working on a particular project I give him parameters and he plays with them. Sometimes, I'll make up to 10 models for a show.' Dart (right) often has a strong feeling about colour or image and works from there. Their first show together was A Handful of Dust and the design focussed on storytelling. 'The set and frocks were entirely grey but audiences talked about 'the scene with the red dress'. They imagined the colour as in a radio play.'

After their huge success with the Gothic Uncle Silas, 'my box set from hell', they are moving to Box Hill and Jane Austen's Emma, smartly subtitled Five Weddings and a Funeral. 'We didn't want to get into Laura Ashley, dressy period nonsense, although Empire line is very flattering. So we've adopted a period style and structure but we play with it. They play elaborate games throughout the book. Thats what my design is all about.'

'Emma' is at Richmond Theatre until Sat. Box-office: 081-940 0088

(Photograph omitted)