Setting the right mood

Next To Normal, a play by Pangdemonium Productions.

IAN BAILIE, 55, PRODUCTION DESIGNER AND ART DIRECTOR

Nominated for: Jack & The Bean-Sprout! (above) by Wild Rice

Previous nomination: Swimming With Sharks (2013) by Pangdemonium

Eye-popping candy colours, towering Housing Board flats and zany cartoonish angles.

Bailie's set for Wild Rice's pantomime Jack & The Bean-Sprout! transports the audience to a Dr Seuss world, where the extraordinary is ordinary. The localised adaptation of the fairy tale Jack & The Beanstalk was written by Joel Tan.

Bailie, who was born in Northern Ireland, says when he started designing the set, he was thinking of "a happy atmosphere layered with organised chaos in modern-day Hougang. Knocking the world off-kilter".

The colours of the set are also eye-wateringly bright, with cheery blues contrasted against loud oranges and yellows.

The designer explains: "It's pantomime. The shape and composition of the 2-D scenery was actually quite aggressive. All acute angles and huge scenery, as big as the Drama Centre stage allowed us.

"I wanted as much as possible for the audience to be inside our world. The bright palette lightened up the mood and complemented the immense energy in the musical."

But putting the set together was not child's play, and extensive research went into getting the world just right.

"I start by sketching the first ideas that come to mind from the written page," says Bailie. "I was very much inspired by German Expressionism.

"Then I addressed the content and started my research by first scouting Hougang in which Jack & The Bean-Sprout! is set. I photographed much of this region of Singapore."

He also worked closely with director Ivan Heng to develop the colour palette and design for the set, designing much of the props and furniture himself.

He paid that level of attention to detail because "putting on stage purchased or rented high-street items would have broken the spell".

WONG CHEE WAI, 42, SET DESIGNER

Nominated for: Twelve Angry Men (above) by Nine Years Theatre

Previous nominations: Lovers' Words (2005) by The Fun Stage; wo(men) (2011) by Checkpoint Theatre and NUS Stage; Freud's Last Session (2013) by Blank Space Theatre

Previous win:The Last Temptation Of Stamford Raffles (2009) by Wild Rice

Sitting in the audience and looking at the set of Twelve Angry Men, it would be difficult to notice anything amiss. Wong says: "The whole thing looks normal but, actually, the entire room is kind of skewed. It uses forced perspective and the table is not a normal table - it's a trapezium."

He says his set aligned thematically with the play, which is about a jury deliberating the verdict of a homicide trial. "For me, the script is very much about changing perceptions and how juries can be swayed through discussion. The script and set work together as they're about perceptions being overturned."

Wong and director Nelson Chia also wanted to eschew the usual staging of the show. "We came to the agreement that we didn't want to do a version where a long table is placed horizontally so that it looks like the Last Supper.

"We were very sure we didn't want to go in that direction, but then we needed to solve the problem of sight lines and the placement of actors, so that no matter where you sit, you can see all of them. So we decided to have a skewed table."

While Chia took the play out of its original setting of America in the 1950s and transported it to a nameless city, Wong says he still decided to retain the feel of the era.

"We based the texture and the feel of it on that, so that's why we recreated things from that time period, like water coolers, windows and doors."

Getting the angles and walls tilted just right was not an easy task though. Wong says: "I created six to eight models for this and it's easier to work in 3-D than in sketches for this kind of work.

"I wouldn't say it was very difficult, but it did take a bit more time to get the angles correct and to make sure that it still looked normal to the eye."

COLLECTIVE NEON TIGHTS

Nominated for: Illogic (right) by Cake Theatrical Productions

Previous nomination: None

A topsy-turvy dream world of endless stairs cascading over the stage sets the tone for Illogic by Cake Theatrical Productions, in which a playwright-director creates a new work for his muse and lover.

The set was by Neon Tights, a collective whose members change depending on the project. The team behind Illogic was led by (clockwise from far left) Nizam Supardi, 37, and comprised Nureen Raidah, 25, Tan Liting, 26, and Daniel Sim, 23.

The collective says in an e-mail: "We wanted this set to be vast, to create a visual landscape that goes on and on. Like a universe that has no beginning or end...

"The multi-levelled stairs become a challenging landscape to navigate, but reflect the journey of life with all its uncertainties."

To create the stage, the group says it started out by fiddling with Rubik's cubes. "We made models of different sizes and heights, putting them together before starting to sketch out the ideas."

The result is a collection of paths which intersect and collide. Some stairs lead nowhere, while others stream towards the front of the stage or hover ominously from the ceiling.

The group says the dizzying array of steps was to "meet the state of the play". It says: "At that point in the play, the state is that of deep emotional disorientation, so we wanted to take that experience to a different level.

"The stairs on the ceiling moving up and down create huge disorientation and the sense of the world closing in or crashing down on a person."

PHILIP ENGLEHEART, 52, SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER

Nominated for: Gruesome Playground Injuries and Next To Normal, both by Pangdemonium

Previous nomination: The Full Monty (2011) by Pangdemonium

The walls of the set of Gruesome Playground Injuries are made of suspended dangerous objects. Knives, saws, sickles and bottles of vodka hang precariously from barely visible lines.

The only double nominee in the set design category this year, Engleheart says: "I wanted the audience to have a sense of danger and imminent attack, and the possibility that something might happen with those objects."

The British designer created the set of Pangdemonium's staging of the Rajiv Joseph play, which traces the lives of two friends from age eight to 38. He adds: "It was very much about creating that very uncertain, unpredictable world that they were both travelling through. It was an emotional response to the script, really."

While the objects may seem like a macabre menagerie of morbidity, Engleheart says they were carefully selected.

"It was important that these objects worked within our colour palette and they were chosen very carefully. You get moments and flashes of red standing out from the steel or wood, or very faint colours, and I was very pleased with it."

Engleheart's other nomination is for Next To Normal, a musical about the life and family of a bipolar disorder sufferer.

He says: "Director Tracie Pang and I were really concerned with truth and we both felt a responsibility and a desire to tread carefully and portray the truth as accurately as we can."

Engleheart talked to sufferers of the condition and discussed extensively with Pang before settling on a set dominated by a giant coronal cross-section of the human brain, outlined in neon tubing.

He says: "I looked at a lot of different brains and different sections of them and created an artistic impression of one.

"You couldn't teach biology from it, but it comes pretty close."


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