Set and Costume Designer Romanie Harper has created a dynamic and layered world for the characters to inhabit in The Violent Outburst That Drew Me to You.
Romanie Harper’s design concept for The Violent Outburst That Drew Me to You reflects the tonal shift between Parts One and Two in Finegan Kruckemeyer's script. The performance style begins as fast-paced comedy, but gradually becomes more real and nuanced. Connor’s initial costume heralds a ‘cool guy’, but in Part Two he appears more boyish and his clothing suggests a childlike innocence. For the ensemble roles, Harper uses signifying garments to allow actors to quickly change character between the pop-up scenes of Part One, e.g. a Hi Vis vest for the bus driver, and a blazer for the teacher.
Costume designs for Timo/Mal/Ensemble by Romanie Harper
Harper notes that the ensemble characters are seen through Connor’s eyes, so they represent his vision of the world. By contrast, Lotte’s costume is more naturalistic and grounded in reality. ‘I wanted her to look authentic and natural in the outdoors, forest environment,’ says Harper. ‘She is more comfortable in the wilderness than Connor, so her comfortable boots, flannelette shirt and backpack are practical and worn. She is a quite a tough character, she’s angry, assertive, unruly and a bit punk, her clothing choices reflect that.’
‘When Lotte arrives, Connor no longer controls our experience of the story,' says Harper. 'She brings with her the autonomy of a real person, sharing her own experiences of frustration and anger at the world around her. It is important that she controls her own presence in the forest, and that she has a control of the space equal to Connor’s. By this time the artifice of life at home, the daily grind of ‘do this, do that’, in the way Connor represents it to us, is destroyed and we are left in a realer, more emotionally connected, and honest space.’
Costume designs for Connor and Lotte by Romanie Harper; Izabella Yena (Photo by James Henry).
Harper’s set design concept also reflects the tonal shift between Parts One and Two, with a spectacular transformation into a non-literal forest. The play opens with the stage direction Connor inspects a door, and doors are an essential feature of this design. ‘It's a layered world,’ says Harper, ‘that can represent a house, a school, a gallery or a bus by opening apertures and portals into spaces as quickly and easily as opening a door.’
Harper explains that the need for the space to represent and stand in for multiple spaces was a big influence for the creative team, as well as the speed at which the first half of the play rockets along. 'With such short scenes it was important to find a way to bring both the actors and the audience into a new space in an instant. We also needed to make sure costumes and props were readily available for fast changes, so many of these elements were chosen knowing they would need to be used and discarded very quickly, or layered over each other to allow for quick costume changes.’
As part of her research, Harper explored the design aesthetic of films by Wes Anderson and Taika Waititi, as well as contemporary artworks and installations. Such artworks include: 1000 Doors by Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney (a walk-through installation of just that, recently seen in Melbourne as part of Melbourne International Arts Festival 2018), Asesinos! Asesinos! by Kader Attia (over one hundred household doors are split into halves and presented in a vast, upright formation of A-frames), The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied by Fondazione Prada and Anna Viebrock (a transmedia exhibition project including many doors), and the art of Gordon Matta-Clark (best known for his spectacular ‘building cuts’). Present in her design is the idea that in Part Two, we lose all artifice and are faced with reality.
Set model by Romanie Harper.
Harper has also included a detail in the costumes that most audiences won’t notice: the emblem on the school uniform costumes features a blue and red logo with the letters CHS and the motto ‘waste of time’. This supports the idea that much of the play is seen through Connor’s eyes, even to the point that he perceives the school as ‘Connor’s High School’ or ‘Crap High School’ with an epigram to match.
The Violent Outburst That Drew Me to You plays at Southbank Theatre 2-18 May before commencing a Regional Tour 22 May-7 June.
Published on 10 May 2019