Let's talk about sets: How to make a pile of sh*t
Designer Christopher Hone talks us through the process of building a 9ft mound of excrement
Peter Barnes's opening stage direction for the play Noonday Demons reads: 'Lights up on a cave in Egypt, 392 AD: low roof, mud walls, shadows. The entrance Up-Stage Centre, is filled with a blinding desert light. Stage Centre Left is a giant mound of age-old human excrement, baked iron-hard.'
The play tells the story of St Eusebuis, who has been living in a desert cave for 13 years, alone but for a tower of his own excrement. Surviving on black olives, water and his own self-righteousness, Eusebuis struggles to keep control of his sanity. When a second hermit arrives claiming that God has sent him to evict Eusebius from his cave a battle begins to find which saint is the holiest.
Holy shit! How do you create 13 years' worth of crap in three months? We thought about using an abstract design, something that could symbolise the great pile and his cave, but Mary Franklin (director of Rough Haired Pointer theatre company) wanted to make it as realistic as possible. We wanted something beautiful in its realism, within the limiting space.
Was real shit an option? The Rough Haired Pointer's rough haired pointer could supply plenty. Or £72 would get us 900L of horse manure. 'This product is a moist, well-rotted farmyard manure which is rich and full of slow releasing natural plant nutrients': The advertisement makes it sounds so enticing but a four-week run during the London heat wave of 2015 might just get us into difficulties. We passed through balls on springs and bin liners of beanbags, but always came back to going big and piling it high.
'It is the most beautiful shit I have ever laid in a theatre'
So we built a nine-foot wooden structure with three tiers reaching to the roof. Polystyrene blocks bulked out the massive turd, covered in white canvas and glue. For a moment it looked like a glorious wedding cake. But not for long. We poured the same expanding foam that Formula One racing car seats are made from in three different shades of brown. Finally, drilling holes in the surface of the mound and installing a hazer, we had a £900 steaming pile of shit.
This impressive dirty protest dominates the space, standing alone on stage as the only piece of set. It becomes a sculpture, an art installation in a gallery. As St Eusebius says of his mighty achievement, "I canst not sin through false pride standing in front o' such as that". This is not high concept but gross realism, with the play's two characters crawling and climbing in their own poo.
It is the most beautiful shit I have ever laid in a theatre and I am so proud of it I have even thought about uploading it to ratemypoo.com, where I'm sure it would win prizes.
Christopher Hone is the designer of Noonday Demons which is runs at the King's Head Theatre, Upper Street until 1 August 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets.