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An exploding set: The Caretaker clutter is blown up in Bristol

The designer of Christopher Hayden's production of Harold Pinter's play explains how he took Cornelia Parker's seminal artwork as inspiration


The set for our production of The Caretaker is naturalistic but with an abstract approach. The set is a large disc with floorboards coming out from the centre. There's a lightbulb and a door, both hung centrally. There are windows, through which we see rain pouring down from the ‘outside world'. There are all the things you'd expect to see in a real room in a real house. It's a room full of clutter - the clutter of two men who hoard and accumulate.

Some of this clutter is old and interesting; trinkets and curiosities worthy of discovery in Bargain Hunt or Antiques Roadshow. The rest, the majority, is the sort of tat the owner should have thrown out years ago. All of these items are exploded out from a centre point. They are hung, fragmented and suspended in space around this disc, which I hope provides a real sense of a moment captured in time, of an energy which comes from seeing these items in isolation. And amidst this disparate explosion of clutter we observe Davies, Aston, and Mick.

Cornelia Parker's Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View was a primary source of inspiration

My hope is that the design can resonate in different ways. For example, in context of Mick and Aston perhaps our array of objects speaks of a stagnation and social immobility. In relation to Davies they could reflect the fragility of a migrant lifestyle and the fractured identity of disenfranchised peoples. Most things mentioned in the script are present and there is not one thing that is non-literal. However the way in which we organise everything is non-naturalistic. We see every item in heightened isolation and also as part of a bigger world of objects. I hope the design says something about the nature of loneliness and people's need to connect, their dependence on one another, and how difficult this can be at times.

Cornelia Parker's seminal work Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View – a phenomenal and monumental piece of art from 1991 – was a primary source of inspiration. The energy in her piece comes from this central point, the point of explosion. The mood and emotion that comes from the way light catches the items, and falls and creates these shadows is palpable. Without wanting to be too derivative it felt important to create a space that evoked something of what we feel when we see this work.

The room is the centre of their universe and everything within it hangs in the balance

In some ways the three characters orbit each other as the piece progresses, constantly working each other out, vulnerable and yet standing their ground. Within the design I hope to echo this with the manner in which everything is breaking apart and fading away. As though this room is the centre of their universe and everything within it hangs in the balance; each item simultaneously isolated and yet in tension with everything around it. A big bang of objects and clutter.

The breaking of the Buddha is such an iconic moment in the play. We're in the process of casting many many Buddhas so that each show one can be hurled and shatter, night after night over the course of the run. With no physical walls to the set it'll have to be a more accurate throw than in a typical production; something to be practiced in tech no doubt!

Director Christopher Haydon and I have worked together a handful of times - I'm proud to say we've had a wonderful series of collaborations over the years, included on Grounded in 2012. We've continued to enjoy working together since and it is hats off to Chris for continuing to pull brilliant teams of people together and forging memorable collaborations.

The Caretaker plays at Bristol Old Vic from 9 to 30 September. It then tours to Nuffield Southampton Theatres (10 to 14 Oct) before a run at Royal & Derngate, Northampton from 17 to 28 October.