AbstractsSociology

The convergence of influences on and evolving praxis of mid-twentieth century British theatre design (1935-1965) through a close study of selected works by Motley and Jocelyn Herbert

by Sophie V Jump




Institution: University of the Arts London
Department:
Year: 2016
Keywords: Theatre Design
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2125869
Full text PDF: http://sophiejump.co.uk/


Abstract

This thesis examines key developments in theatre design in Britain between 1935-1965 through the lens of the praxis of the design trio known as Motley (active 1932-78) and of theatre designer Jocelyn Herbert (1917-2003). Analysis of their roles in the creation of the four theatre productions that are used as case studies, Romeo and Juliet (1935), Three Sisters (1938), The Kitchen (1959 & 1961) and Happy Days (1962) enables an evaluation of the complex threads of influence on Motley and Herbert both from within the UK and from the USA and Europe. Furthermore, it offers a close study of their working process including their relationships with directors and playwrights considering not only what they designed, but how and why. Critical engagement with theatre design practice has increased since the early 1990s but there is still very little evaluative literature about British theatre design during the period of this study, 1935-1965. To date there are only three books and three journal articles that specifically cover the seminal designers Motley and Herbert so there is scope for a broadened analysis and contextualisation of their practice. One of the original contributions to knowledge of this thesis is that it assesses the confluence of influences on Motley and Herbert and draws together the threads of connections between British, European and American theatre and the ethos of Michel Saint-Denis illustrating how these fed into Motley’s and Herbert’s work. Whilst acknowledging the complexity of theatre practice and of reconstructing past events, this thesis assesses a combination of archival design material, such as set and costume renderings and sketches, as well as written texts, press reviews and recorded interviews, and draws on my own experience as a theatre design practitioner. The four case studies enable an in-depth investigation of Motley’s and Herbert’s processes and practice, the circumstances in which they operated and how they negotiated these conditions, as well as indicating how the role of the theatre designer developed across the period 1935-1965. In approaching the four case studies from the point of view of design the thesis contributes a new layer to their intricate histories. By emphasising the significance of the professionalisation of the role of the theatre designer during this time and by revealing the connections between Motley, the London Theatre Studio, Herbert and the Royal Court Theatre it expands understanding of the period and reinforces the substantial contribution of design to British theatre history.