'Purer theatre': the striking stage design of Don Carlos

30 October 2018

We caught up with set and costume designer Rosanna Vize to ask her about her contemporary and minimalistic design choices for the major new revival of Schiller's thrilling drama Don Carlos, which runs at the Rose 6 - 17 Nov.

"When I first began speaking with Gadi Roll (Director) about Don Carlos he showed me the following quote: 'About spreading a purer, gentler humanity, about the highest possible freedom of the individual within the State’s highest blossom.'

The quote is from Schiller himself, talking about what inspired him to write Don Carlos. It would also be the anchor of this production. Designing a play like Don Carlos means combatting two contradicting forces. On the one hand we are dealing with a play that hops through many intimate rooms that make up the court of Philip II. Each with two doors, paintings, tables, carpets, letter cases, glasses of water… you get the picture. It is a classical, well-made kind of theatre.

On the other hand, we are dealing in huge, time-spanning themes that are bigger than the walls inside which Schiller has placed them: ideas of a ‘purer, gentler humanity’, of power and its ability to corrupt. It became clear to us that if we allowed ourselves to get too bogged down with Schiller’s smaller details, we may distract from the bigger picture.

This led us to create something that dealt in more honest materials. If purer humanity is the goal, then let’s create purer theatre. This meant stripping away architecture, painted scenery and other fakery and instead only telling this story with the bare bones of what is required. If the actor needs to sit then we give them a chair. If we need to see them, we give them a light.

The idea of light however quickly took on its own meaning. Even at its most essential it seemed to do much more than just light an actor’s face in order for the audience to see. If you put one bright theatre light on a stand and shine it in someone’s face, you are immediately dealing with something harsh, powerful and uncompromising… a little bit like Philip’s harsh kingdom and tyrannical regime. With this in mind, we began to explore the way in which visible theatre lights could became the symbol of power in our telling of Don Carlos."

A magnificent tale of passion and power set against the chilling backdrop of the bloody and ruthless Spanish Inquisition, Don Carlos runs at the Rose from 6 - 17 November. To find out more and to book tickets, click here.

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