When I was asked to design The Snow Queen, I was interested in finding a physical environment that responded to the emotional pull of the play. Mike Kenny, who adapted the piece, suggested the story was told in an attic ‘holding all possibilities’. For me, an attic in an abandoned house echoed Gerda’s feelings of abandonment by Kai and her desire to restore their broken friendship.
The design needed to hold two spaces at once – both an interior environment and an arctic landscape. I wanted to suggest a glacial movement and a sense of cold air coming, which we have been able to achieve through a light colour palette and a line in the set that pushes out towards the audience.
I’d seen an image by fashion photographer Tim Walker that came to mind when I mulled on the script. It was of a tree pushing its way through the floor of a house and a chandelier caught among its branches. Roman Stefanski (the director) and I were interested in using this imagery as a representation of the Snow Queen – an echo of a hand reaching out to a small child, the chandelier depicting her glittering beauty.
Initially it was a challenge to design for a space I didn’t know
To add detail and a sense of period and place, Roman introduced me to the 19th century Swedish illustrator Carl Larsson. His portrayal of family life guided us in setting the actual story of Gerda in Sweden at the turn of the 19th century, using much of his attention to detail to inform the costumes.
These influences were all in the early stages of creating the worlds. But as a designer, I am very excited by working from rehearsals and responding to what the director and performers bring to the process and the visual narrative. Working with a director, who specialises in puppetry, meant playing with objects to tell the story was a crucial aspect of the creative process.
Initially it was a challenge to design for a space I didn’t know. Responding to a auditorium is a crucial element to how I work and I needed to get a feel for Polka’s beautifully intimate architecture and quirky features. Within a small area I needed to create an environment with perspective and with a sense of space.
Similarly, telling a tale with four actors that ranged across many locations and depicting many characters was always going to need invention. There was a balance to strike between keeping the storytelling pace tight yet creating vivid memorable moments and this is what I hope we’ve been able to bring to audiences.
The Snow Queen runs at Polka Theatre until 4 February.