I had a tough act to follow with this show.
About 15 years earlier the company had produced the show with designs by
the great designer Peter Gould (Later Associate Designer on such shows
as Cats and Les Miz). Gould's designs were clever, rich in
detail, and a joy to look at. The company wanted me to keep the
underpinning of realism and as well to utilize a turntable to accomplish
the main scene change as was done with Peter Gould's design. The
production was also being directed by the legendary Ralph Allen (creator
of Sugarbabies on Broadway).
Researching this production was quite
interesting. For some reason it is very hard to find photographs from
inside courhouses. I even tried research at a law library, but to little
While waiting for the script to arrive I
decided to go the dramaturgical route. I discovered that Agatha
Christy's short story, which she later developed into the play was
available at the library. I was also able to obtain a copy of the film,
which Dame Agatha also worked on personally. Armed later with the
script, the research provided for a wonderful spectrum of development. I
was able to follow the many iterations from story to play and then to
film. It was quite interesting to see how the focus would change
with each version and to see what details of plot or theme or
circumstance came to the front in each version.
Especially given the difficulty at finding
general photographic research I decided that it might be fun for my
visual research in this case parallel the dramaturgical research. I am
rarely influenced by the Broadway design of a production but I did look
up Raymond Sovey's design. It's detail matched the film which he did not
design! But then I discovered why. Both the Broadway edition as well as
the film edition were based on a realistic interpretation of the actual
Old Bailey courtroom where the action takes place. Eventually I was able
to find a photo of the specific courtroom. Peter Gould's design too was
largely copied from one of these sources.
So, who was I to break with tradition
<G>! In truth, while I took the detail in this design from
the actual Old Bailey and portions of the floorplan from Sovey's work, I
did nevertheless work to incorporate some original concepts. First you
will note the interesting roller-coaster feel of the top of the set,
related to the extreme perspective used. The set is also
interesting in how much of it extends beyond the edge of the turntable.
When the set changed to the Judge's chambers it was a total surprise to
audiences. The design engineering was difficult though. The number of
cast members the set has to hold is so great that this set actually
extended beyond the proscenium. The director insisted on a full 12
members in the jury, something even the Broadway production did not
attempt to do.
However this made for another fun choice which
demonstrated the value of the dramaturgical approach to the research. In
the actual courtroom, the defendant would enter his box via a tunnel
directly from prison. This system kept him separate at all times in the
actual courtroom from the citizens and thus would keep them out of any
danger. Indeed the film version made reference to this tunnel to the
box. The Broadway edition cut this totally out. In this design
though, I was able to pay homage to this wonderful detail. In this
courthouse the defendant's box stretched downstage of the proscenium and
it is entered actually from the house (on the side).