2D>3D, Sheffield
Wednesday, 18 December 2002
You have until 12 January to visit the most exciting event in theatre design for years, the 2D>3D show at Sheffield’s Millennium Galleries. If you can, you should allow a whole day for your visit - I could have used a week to roam the tightly packed exhibition space, reading every label, browsing every sketchbook and scanning every storyboard in this fascinating display.

More than 150 set, costume and lighting designers, plus a distinguished band of theatre architects, are showing some of their best work produced over the last three years. Organizers Peter Ruthven Hall and Kate Burnett have prepared an excellent catalogue of the show (available from SBTD at £18), replete with sumptuous colour illustrations, but the very 2D nature of the book explains why you should, if at all possible, see the real 3D thing: the catalogue has a careful sketch from Nancy Surman of her costumes for The Duchess of Malfi at Salisbury Playhouse: the show adds the costumes themselves, superb examples of the meticulous making that followed the designs. The catalogue prints some delightful, Erté-like sketches from Paul Farnsworth for the showgirls in his Royal Festival Hall Follies. The show has the set model too, showing how cleverly (and economically) he converted this fifties function room into a very convincing derelict Broadway theatre. You’ll find Malcolm Morley’s first gentle watercolour visualization of the Theatre Clwyd Amadeus: his exhibit has the full story (right down to the flying plan) of the many changes that occurred before its final visualization.

Even before you enter the enchanted labyrinth of the show itself, your appetite has been more than whetted. The ground floor entrance is flanked by half a dozen typically magnificent Marie-Jean Lecca costumes. Upstairs you continue past the Farnsworth Follies, a display from Kate Borthwick for Walk the Plank’s Moby Dick (which includes a model of the company’s unique venue, a converted ferryboat), and a couple of huge costumes from Abigail Hammond for The Hobbit, one of them a six-foot spider which has to accommodate an actor inside.

Here we come up against one of 2D>3D’s enjoyable contradictions: The Hobbit designs look very good, and the story Abigail Hammond tells of their development from the first shoestring production to more lavishly budgeted revivals is a fine insight into the constraints most designers face. Yet the critics hated the show in most of its forms. Similarly, Alison Chitty backs her starkly simple set model for Peter Hall’s NT Bacchai with some equally thoughtful pencil and gold-foil sketches for masks and costumes. The finished product was much more brash and garish than these attractive preliminary ideas suggest - but you learn that the whole complex shebang was put together during its nine weeks of rehearsals.

Host city Sheffield is given its due with a good display of recent productions to remind us how Michael Grandage’s success (the Crucible was TMA’s Theatre of the Year in 2001) has been design-led, with sets by Alison Chitty (again), Christopher Oram, Soutra Gilmour and Stephen Brimson Lewis lit by the likes of Hartley Kemp and Tim Mitchell.

Several of the exhibitors score with presentations which are a performance in themselves. Liz Ascroft sets her own scene for Afterplay with a café table and two chairs; Richard Foxton uses two life-sized handbags to house the models of the sets he put inside them for Lip Service’s tour of The Importance of Being Earnest - don’t be afraid to open them - and Nettie Scriven has all sorts of visual aids in and around the chest of drawers that presents her Aesop’s Fables model. Sophia Lovell Smith, too, has a ravishing display of fungus-filled specimen boxes for her work on The Mushroom Man.

A common feature of 2D>3D is the use of one big design statement to carry a show: Fiona Watts has a huge derrick for The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek at the Traverse; Fred Meller puts a giant teddy bear at the end of a hos

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