After beginning his career in architecture, before adding a Masters in Design from VCA to his resume in 2008, Eugyeene Teh’s work for a wide range of independent theatre groups has attracted notice. Last year, NEON Festival audiences saw his impressive designs for Little Ones Theatre’s Dangerous Liaisons. This year, his work has debuted on MTC’s main stage with Endgame. Paul Galloway sat down with Eugyeene to learn more about the process of designing costumes for Beckett’s modern masterpiece.
‘I am glad to have done a lot of independent theatre,’ Eugyeene says ‘because it makes you more conscious of your decisions. It’s so hands-on, you don’t want to waste your time. You cannot spend four weeks building a set that you are not very pleased with.’
Now he’s at MTC with a professional wardrobe department and a large costume store to support him. On the other hand, this is a Samuel Beckett play, so there’s not a lot of airspace for a designer’s flights of fancy, especially since the Beckett estate is notorious in its insistence that productions follow the playwright’s stage directions closely.
‘Yes it’s a nice feeling to work with a well-resourced company,’ he says. ‘My ideas are not as limited to what I can find for tuppence and can make myself. But then there are other pressures, a greater expectation to get things right.’
‘I know there is a very particular control over what can be presented,’ Eugyeene says about the Beckett Estate’s strictures. ‘But the text isn’t too specific. There’s some room there to move. It’s quite interesting, because Beckett describes a lot of the design, what the set should be like, but then there are some holes. For example, he describes what Hamm is wearing, but never describes what Clov is wearing. So there is free rein there. He does prescribe what Clov wears when he comes back at the end – then we follow the script. So in the design we picked up the missing links.’
In their early discussions about the costumes, Eugyeene and director Sam Strong decided not to place limits on their thinking.
‘We went all out,’ says Eugyeene. ‘We explored many, many concepts and designs. Some were way out there. Then, after sorting them out, we pulled everything back to sit within the boundaries, while still leaving some originality and play.’
Some like to see the world in Endgame as post-apocalyptic. Certainly the idea of nuclear annihilation was on the minds of the first audiences and critics in the late fifties. But Eugyeene, Sam Strong and Set Designer Callum Morton, in the spirit of Beckett, wanted to thwart easy interpretations of the characters’ situation.
‘The time and place are not specified in the script, so we tried hard not to specify one in the design,’ says Eugyeene. ‘It is more or less universal and kind of timeless. Not necessarily post-apocalyptic, but maybe a time of stagnancy. However, we settled on a premise for them, where they had been before. We decided that before they came to this room, they might have been at the opera. A long time ago. I think we wanted to address where they got their clothes from. We also had a desire to give them a little bit of flair. Yet even that was pulled back. It’s just a departure point.’
You can see Eugyeene Teh’s designs on stage in Endgame, now playing at Southbank Theatre, the Sumner until 25 April.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Autumn edition of Scenes, MTC’s quarterly subscriber magazine