What a Piece of Work is James Thomas

Tuesday, 23 November 2010
What a Piece of Work is James ThomasThe James Thomas black 305 box truss in use on the National Theatre's production of Hamlet.
UK - Truss rarely enjoys a celebration of form over function, but there's always the exception . . . The set of the National Theatre's current production of Hamlet, staged at the Olivier Theatre, on London's South Bank.

In plain sight on the stage sits a framework of truss comprising three six-metre towers per side, supporting 12.5 metre stretches of Thomas 30.5cm box truss. Set designer Vicki Mortimer wanted to create a stark and oppressive space for the production's media-driven surveillance state of Elsinore, where the themes of duplicity and the paranoia of always being watched are brought to the fore.

She explains: "We were looking for a containing structure which would communicate layers of meaning to the audience including an acknowledgment of the theatrical metaphors in Hamlet, and establish most particularly the constraints of a society designed to observe its individuals. The truss work gave us a visual shorthand for these ideas, establishing a vocabulary and atmosphere which could be built upon by the events of the story."

NT production manager Igor realised the design: "We bought black-painted Thomas 305 Box Truss specifically for the production. We hold a lot of it in our inventory, so it made sense to augment the existing stock, although we did look at other options because it was a show-specific thing."

"The Thomas truss is very pleasing visually. The cleanliness and firmness of the design allows you to set the pattern so that it all lies identically and looks the same bay by bay. Some of the other trusses were not as pleasing to the eye."

"The James Thomas quote was very competitive and the customer service is always very good and their feedback was so rapid - I felt they got involved in the project - so that sealed the deal really."

The production is in repertoire at the Olivier before it goes on tour, so another crucial consideration for the set truss was its portability and simplicity of use. Igor continued: "The truss is a bolt-together truss which is more difficult to get wrong than a pin system. If you're using the pins - and especially if you're touring and going to different houses with different crews - the bolt-together system is a better option for sure, because it's much easier to explain 'four bolts, four holes, put it together' and knowing that it's quite difficult to get that wrong."

(Lee Baldock)

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