Let's Talk About Sets: Ben Stones on Fool for Love

The designer Ben Stones on his work at the pop-up theatre Found 111

Found 111 has a lot of history for me beyond its short time as a pop up theatre. I trained at St Martins School of Art, graduating in 2003, so it was incredibly exciting to take this bare space and transform it to work for plays that usually hide behind a proscenium arch. The space was a blank canvas for each play and provided obstacles to each that we learned to use to our advantage. Creating a pop up theatre in the West End was a daunting prospect. But the calibre of creatives, craftsmen, playwrights and actors has set us apart from other pop up theatres. We were blessed with a long artistic heritage in the building alone and then given the gift of some of our best actors in the industry including, Andrew Scott, James Norton, Kate Fleetwood and many more.

With each new piece director Simon Evans, who I have collaborated with since 2012, presented me with huge design problem plays that are usually performed with the benefits of being behind large prosceniums with stage mechanics. Found 111 however presents us with a pillar bang in the middle of the space, a low ceiling and shallow widths. With each play the space became its own character as we set out to reimagine the auditorium of Found 111 each time and the way in which the plays were presented. I found that focus is important in Found 111 design-wise, and defining the playing space. The Dazzle presented us with a problem of two men who hoarded so much junk they died among it, and Bug envisioned a room of two addicts that transformed into a nightmarish vision of paranoia. The Dazzle we presented in a small cube of Victoriana, and Bug was performed in the round looking through a slice of a desperate motel room.

Sketches for Fool for Love
Sketches for Fool for Love

When Simon Evans asked me to design Fool for Love I was initially reluctant as our previous show Bug was also set in a motel room and I wondered if I had another original vision of a desert motel room in the same space. Thankfully Simon convinced me that this was a completely different mood and feel to Tracy Letts' nightmarish vision of a desolate motel in Bug, and as we heard the news that this would be our swansong at Found 111 we knew we had to make this design our most ambitious.

Sam Shepard is very clear with his naturalistic description of the scenography but is very clear that some moments are not rooted in realism. He also writes that separate from the room in another space the character of The Old Man sits listening to our fated Fools and only interacts when the moment calls. In my reading of it I wanted to free the piece from being trapped within a box set and reimagined the motel like a cinematic aperture of architecture. Piles of desert soil cascades through the motel room and onto the forestage allowing the Fools to exist in a real space and also an abstract landscape.

As a designer I'm obsessed with materials, and have tried to use as many raw materials and finishes as possible to evoke the motel at the edge of the Mojave desert, from old discontinued lino to old veneer walls. We hope this is a fitting artistic goodbye to the last remnants of the original St Martins School of Art building before it is lost to London history until the next space Emily Dobbs productions can find. Watch this (found) space.

By Ben Stones

Fool for Love runs at Found 111 until 17 December.