Stamford Shoestring’s production of Arnold Wesker’s play Roots (6-10 December) poses some practical challeges for amateur companies – and it’s all to do with the set design. The Moment talked to Maurice Waterworth – one of the company’s resident set designers – about the new production and what goes on behind the scenes
First of all, tell us a bit about the play…
It’s set in the mid-50s and is located on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, in a rural working class household. There are three acts, and each act is in a different location, which is a challenge when you only have one stage! In the introduction to the script the author even says he hopes amateur companies won’t be put off by this. The play is not produced very often for that reason.
What are the three locations you had to create?
The first act is set in a small cottage belonging to the main character’s sister, with no electricity or running water. The second is in her mother’s kitchen, and then the third is in her mother’s sitting room, where they’re all dressed up waiting for Ronnie, the boyfriend from London, to appear.
What are the main challenges with set design?
Set design is really in two parts: you’re working closely with the director, discussing how the director sees the play, and the set design becomes part of the non-verbal communication, helping the director communicate ideas to the audience. That’s the creative side, then there’s the practical side. The first step there is to make a set model so the actors, director and set construction team can actually visualise what it will hopefully look like on stage! Then there are the technical drawings, and the construction of various bits of the set, bearing in mind the limitations that we work with – particularly from a time point of view. It has to be creative, but it also has to be do-able.
How do you deal with those limitations?
We’re an amateur company, and although we’re a successful amateur company we don’t have anything like the money and resources of professional theatre. We have at the most 11 Saturday mornings to actually make the set, and one Sunday morning to get it on stage, so all those things have to be taken into account. But we’re all volunteers. We have four productions a year, four different directors and usually four different set designers. It is one of the things about amateur theatre that you share roles. Sometimes I’ve been set construction manager, sometimes just part of the construction team, and sometimes I design them – and often take part in making them as well! It’s very much a hands-on company.
Roots by Arnold Wesker
It’s September 1958. Beatie Bryant comes home from London, like a breath of fresh air to the rural Norfolk community of her birth. Beatie means to marry her socialist boyfriend Ronnie, adamantly declaring that when he visits Saturday week that the family ‘don’t show me up when he’s here’. She brings with her presents and a gramophone, plus a wealth of new ideas on politics, music and art to enlighten her family. Ideas of a bolder, freer world, which includes love in the afternoon, but which promise to clash with their unreflective way of life. Wesker’s play is full of compassion, humour and sharplyobserved humanity, woven with highly rhythmic language. There are strong contrasts between young Beatie’s exuberance, bursts of vitality and passionate attempts to get reactions and opinions from her family, with their apathy and complacency. A true classic, Roots is a touching portrait of a young woman struggling to find her voice. This play has stood the test of time and remains relevant in contemporary Britain where social division would seem to have increased rather than reduced. “Roots, a beautiful rich piece, that has a strong claim to being Wesker’s greatest dramatic achievement.” Daily Telegraph.
Roots 6-10 December Stamford Arts Centre 27 St Mary’s Street Stamford PE9 2DL Book through Stamford Arts Centre Box Office 01780 763203 www.stamfordartscentre.com