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Let's Talk About Sets: Diego Pitarch on The Donkey Show

The designer of the disco re-imagining of A Midsummer Night's Dream explains the joys and the challenges of working in a non-theatrical space


When I was first asked by Ryan McBryde [director] to collaborate on The Donkey Show, I felt very intrigued. With 2016 being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's Death, the idea of reimagining A Midsummer Night's Dream in an immersive nightclub setting was both exciting and very much off my beaten path.

In The Donkey Show (a reference to the characters who get turned into a donkey by Tytania the Fairy Queen), the action is transposed from the usual Athenian forest into a seventies nightclub - Club Oberon, in New York City. Ryan and I spoke about evoking the world of Studio 54 - a time of decadence, glamour, sparkle and a truckload of mirror balls. If you look at photographs of the New York party scene in that time you see there's a freedom and expansiveness that is very inspiring.

There are joys and challenges of working in a non-theatrical space. The usual rules don't apply so you can really let your imagination run wild - in this case, creating a huge playground in which the actors and audience coexist with no boundaries. The interactions can be huge - or they can be individual. We discovered ways for the action to be around, above and between the audience members who are transported on an incredible journey visually, matched by the perfect musical soundtrack. We found wonder in the simple challenge of making sure the actors could be seen - playing with levels and using the space above the audience for trapeze and aerial work.

For the audience, the experience is very exciting and we have gone even further in the design to bring out the characters' larger than life personalities to guide the audience through what is already a fantastical tale. As a piece of immersive theatre it combines theatregoers finding their way into club world, and nightclubbers watching a theatre piece, so having an understandable common ground in the form of nostalgia, fun and sensuality was important to us.

Except for the fairies and Lady Puck, a fantastic drag queen, all of the actors are women which flips the Elizabethan convention of men playing women. The fairies are strong, dynamic, warriorlike men who fly on hoops and breathe fire, and all of the lovers are women in vintage seventies gear with Afro wigs. It's fantastically confusing and cheeky.

Ryan and I explored how a familiar space can be made to feel different when inhabited by performers who bring it to life to make us notice different aspects - with the amount of added glitter and mirrorballs we have loads to play with: light, colour, reflection, disorientation. One of the key themes in A Midsummer Night's Dream is magic - I wanted to extend that into the nightclub setting as a place of everyday magic and allow the audience to enjoy the wonder of the things that surround us.

By Diego Pitarch

The Donkey Show runs at Proud Camden until 21 August.