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  • Watch: John Macfarlane on designing Frankenstein — 'We kept coming back to something that was so simple' 

Watch: John Macfarlane on designing Frankenstein — 'We kept coming back to something that was so simple' 

The designer on the challenges of adapting Mary Shelley's novel, and creating authentic period costumes that allow for the freedom of 21st century dance.

By Hayley Bartley (Former Content Producer (Learning))

13 April 2016 at 5.18pm | Comment on this article

Scottish designer John Macfarlane is no stranger to the Royal Opera House. Since his debut in 1985 with Peter Wright's Giselle, he has continued to create set and costume designs for both The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera.

This new production of Frankenstein sees the designer join forces once again with choreographer Liam Scarlett, following previous collaborations on Asphodel Meadows, Sweet Violets and The Age of Anxiety.

'Liam is capable of shredding a costume at its first rehearsal but he still wants somebody to look like a real person,’ says John about the choreographer's approach. ‘He wants somebody to look like they are in 1860 – or in the case of Frankenstein, 1790 – but he still wants them to get up and do the most extraordinary things.'

For John, the biggest challenge designing for this ballet has been not having any music. ‘That’s how I get the images and where the pivotal points from the piece can come,' he says.

As with the choreography and designs, the music for Frankenstein has also been newly commissioned. The final score by composer Lowell Liebermann remains a work in progress until some way into the rehearsal process.

'The pay off, of course, is that you can then say “I need another four minutes because there is a whopping great set change or I need this to be ten times louder because I want it to cover stage noise” and the composer is with us still and can work with you and do that.'

Based on the Gothic novel by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein is Liam Scarlett’s first full length work for The Royal Ballet. The production is split into three acts, each representing a different location within the story.

'The major idea in Act I was an anatomy room because it's a wonderful teaching space and it's also a spectacular theatrical space for him [Frankenstein] to create the creature in,’ explains John. ‘The two of us had many ideas for Act III, which is the ballroom scene, and in the end all I'll say is it's a very simple solution and we kept coming back to something that was so simple.'

Watch more films like this on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel:

Frankenstein runs 4–27 May 2016. Tickets are still available.

The production is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and is generously supported by the Monument Trust, Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, Simon and Virginia Robertson and the Frankenstein Production Syndicate.

Frankenstein will be live in cinemas around the world on 18 May 2016. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list.

This film was created for Design Challenge, our annual competition challenging young people to create their own designs for an opera or ballet production.

By Hayley Bartley (Former Content Producer (Learning))

13 April 2016 at 5.18pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged by Liam Scarlett, costume design, Design Challenge, Frankenstein!!, John MacFarlane, Lowell Liebermann, Production, set design

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