Let's Talk About Sets: Diego Pitarch on Counting Stars

The designer of the latest show at the Theatre Royal Stratford East explains how he has turned the stage into a nightclub

Counting Stars is my second collaboration with director Pooja Ghai. Pooja and I established a very strong collaboration based on mutual trust and admiration, while working on The House of in Between also at Stratford East earlier this year. When she asked me to design Counting Stars I accepted the job immediately. The script is very evocative and inspiring. We both felt we wanted to make the play into an immersive experience by transforming the stage of the Theatre Royal into a nightclub.

By doing that we were facing a double challenge: on one hand we had to create a realistic nightclub but on the other we needed to respond to the abstract and lyrical nature of the play by creating a theatrical set within the space, that would emphasise the concepts within the script.

By making it an installation, the audience experiences the theatre space in a surprising way. The access to the club is through the dock doors that are usually used to bringing the scenery into the backstage area. The auditorium is closed, the audience is sitting in a section of the stage and unbeknownst to them the beautiful Victorian auditorium lies in darkness behind them.

While the audience is enjoying a drink to the beat of the music, the two characters of the play walk in and start telling their story. We are forcing the audience to suddenly set their eyes into a section of the club that they would usually ignore; the toilets. By doing so, they become aware of their relationship with toilet attendants.
When encountering an attendant at work, one tends to ignore them and sometimes behaves awkwardly around them, blocking them out and consciously avoiding their gaze. In Counting Stars we are asking our audience to look at these characters and to hear their untold story.

By Diego Pitarch

Counting Stars runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 17 September