Linbury Prize winner Rose Revitt: Building sanctuary and chaos for Dr Korczak's Example at Leeds Playhouse

One of the winners of the Linbury Prize writes about her whirlwind experience transforming the new studio space at the Leeds venue ahead of the production of David Greig’s play

The model box and final design for Dr Korczak's Example
The model box and final design for Dr Korczak's Example
© Left: Rose Revitt, right: Zoe Martin

I was first sent the script for Dr Korczak's Example in August 2019 when I became a finalist for the Linbury Prize, a biennial prize for recent theatre design graduates. As one of three people creating a design for the show, I wouldn't know until much later
whether my design would win and be put into production.

The piece is based on a powerful true account of Polish educator Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942. Following a thorough – if quite heartbreaking – research process, and meetings with director James Brining, ideas began to form. The new studio space at Leeds Playhouse, the Bramall Rock Void, has a wonderfully rich character already, with textured red brick walls and an exposed quarry rock area. This seemed to speak directly to something in the story. 

Gemma Barnett
Gemma Barnett
© Zoe Martin

I created a rough sketch model; ripping up paper, stacking it, scrunching it, honing what felt spatially right for the story and drawing inspiration from textures already present in the theatre space. Struck by the magnitude of destruction the characters were facing, I developed the idea of a demolished landscape full of rubble containing the everyday items that make a home. Contrasting with this is a central structured area, a sanctuary amongst the chaos to be used as the orphanage.

Whilst continually reworking and adjusting the design, experimenting with possibilities and researching the subject, I encountered many photographs of displaced children from present-day war zones. As Korczak's writings became the basis of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child, it felt crucial to include a contemporary element within the design.

After a lot of detailed drawing, model making and discussions with the theatre's different departments, the design was finally complete. It was wonderful finding out that it was going to be created. Everything kicked into action immediately. I rushed up to Leeds Playhouse for a presentation and, before I knew it, the world I had designed started to be built, props sourced, costumes found and rehearsals began.
What started as just a few scribbles on a piece of paper is becoming a tangible environment that can be lit, climbed on, and, most importantly, be a home for the story to live in.

Rose Revitt's model box and drawings for Dr Korczak's Example, together with the work of the other finalists, are currently on display in the National Theatre as part of the Linbury Prize for Stage Design Exhibition.