Set and Costume Designer Alicia Clements shares insights into the exciting challenges of designing a sprawling onstage forest, and the practical considerations of creating costumes for the many characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It.
How would you describe the set design you’ve created for As You Like It?
Our set design is really an exploration of Nature vs Man - or Nature vs Architecture: two bold, opposing forces that our characters flee from, and to, and that shape their attitudes. The palace of Act 1 feels monolithic: a display of masculine strength and power. And yet in Act 2 we discover a version that has been overtaken and reclaimed by nature.
What were your impressions when you first read the script, and what initially jumped out as inspiration for your design?
The script is, of course, a classic, and a story I have known for many years and seen multiple versions of. Most productions attempt to find a simplified or highly interpretive version of the forest, as creating a REAL forest is … slightly mad and incredibly difficult. One of the most exciting aspects of this production was knowing that Simon wanted to create a forest that was as sprawling, lush and evocative of the natural world as we possibly could. Finding the best and most beautiful version of that idea was a long and complex process – the final set design you can see didn’t pop into our minds fully formed, it evolved over months and months of discussions, workshops and trial designs that ended up in the trash!
Is there a particular moment in the play that you’re especially excited about, regarding your design?
The moment we reveal the forest is just fabulous – to show the audience just how expansive and rambling this landscape actually is.
Set model by Alicia Clements.
What practical storytelling considerations have you included in your design that might not be immediately apparent?
In some ways this is a simpler set – from a technical perspective – than you would have seen from Simon’s previous productions of Shakespeare in Love and Twelfth Night. We don’t have any revolves, lifts or trapdoors, and nobody flies or gets dropped through a hole in the stage floor. However, we have used absolutely every inch of available space on the stage and up in the grid, so we have had to meticulously plan where every bit of action takes place, exactly how thin our flown walls can be so they take up minimal room, and every pathway available to actors to and from the space. The slopes of the hills of course have to be safe and not too steep for our actors, but we planned the pathways most actors would take and made sure to include plenty of steps and footholds.
How would you describe the overall look of your costume designs for As You Like It, and what inspired your designs?
The world is based on the period of King Louis XIV, or the latter half of the 17th Century. The baroque period was one of extraordinary excess and embellishment. We wanted Duke Frederick’s court to reflect a culture of extreme artifice – huge wigs, hats, powdered faces, sculpted clothing in the most luxurious fabrics. By contrast, Duke Senior and his loyal followers have shed much of this pomp and are slowly adopting a softer and more natural style of living.
Court costume designs by Alicia Clements.
Thinking about one character as an example, what does their costume tell us about them?
Costumes play such an important role in Shakespearean plays in helping the audience understand who they are. In the case of this production, the allusion to the notorious court of Louis XIV provides a context the audience can immediately understand by clothing Duke Frederick as a similarly power-hungry and controversial monarch. Frederick – a usurper of his much beloved brother – is desperate to be respected and so clads himself in the finest, richest clothing and adornment. He looks more like a gilt statue than a human being and his clothing helps him to feel impenetrable and untouchable. The real Louis committed brutal acts to look as good as he did – for example, kidnapping Venetian lacemakers for their unparalleled skill – and these darker aspects have informed our palette of black and gold.
What are some practical considerations you have had to incorporate in your costume designs? E.g. quick changes, movement for dance/playing instrument, actor comfort/safety etc.
All of these things play a part in our considerations when creating costumes. As the designer, I will have a vision of what I hope to achieve, but I rely heavily on my team – lead by Sophie Woodward (Costume Coordinator) and John Van Gastel (Associate Costume Designer) to advise on how the costumes need to be made or potentially modified to meet the requirements of specific action or quick changes. We also consult regularly with the actors and our stage management team to ensure we know how things like instruments may affect how a costume needs to fit. One of the biggest considerations with this particular show was actually footwear – walking on such long fake grass means all shoes need to be sturdy, comfortable and relatively flat.
Jack Green, James Mackay, Christie Whelan Browne & Daniel Frederiksen. Photo: Jeff Busby