Interview with Hayley Grindle – Designer of Hamlet

It must be a challenge designing a stage for a Shakespeare play. In fact, it must be a challenge having anything to do with Shakespeare at all! The plays are absolute classics, but taking on iconic scripts comes with such pressure and expectation.

Leeds Playhouse are currently taking on Hamlet, and with expert director Amy Leach at the helm and a staggeringly talented creative team on board, I’m sure it will be exceptional.

I chat to Designer Hayley Grindle about her work in the production…

Do you find Shakespeare productions a particular challenge?

I think the challenge lies in trying to assist the language of Shakespeare. I am always asking how can the design of the production assist in the clarity of the storytelling in each scene trying to make it as accessible and relatable as possible to the audience. 

How do you first get inspired? How do the ideas for a design come to you?  

I start by reading and understanding the piece, conversations with the director. Imagining who those characters would be if they existed today. I think about where it is set and look at images if that place exists already or is similar to somewhere else. Within Shakespeare texts I often research what the weather is like in that location as it always feels extremely important in Shakespeare. The plays feel elemental and I’m interested in how you convey that on stage . 

Why did you choose to become a designer? Have you always had a love for theatre?

I always loved watching musicals on the TV when I was little and falling into the magic of those stories. I was in a youth theatre and I still remember how I first felt back stage; how much I loved the feeling of being there. However to be honest I didn’t really realise the scope of the job, that it was in fact a proper job and you could do it as a career. That was until I was 17, and I met a wonderful woman Ruth Sabin who was a mentor to me. She guided me in many ways and it’s through her that I found my path into design.  

Tell us a little bit about the set you have designed for Leeds Playhouse’s Hamlet – should we expect to be surprised?  

Well I would always hope to delight and surprise the audience! With this Hamlet we wanted to create moments visually that hopefully generate an emotional response from the audience. It’s set in a cold and windy castle on the edge of a cliff which is guarded and surrounded by water.  It’s a place that feels dangerous and threatening.

Does the Pop-Up theatre space present any unique challenges / opportunities?

We have to create our own magic! There’s nowhere to go, no flying, no wings – everything is built within the design.

Which of your designs particular stands out and why?

Romeo & Juliet which I designed for Leeds Playhouse in 2017 directed by Amy Leach who is directing Hamlet. I just loved the challenge of taking on the Quarry Theatre. It’s a play which needs to feel intimate and epic all at the same time but we had an amazing team and it is such an iconic story.

How closely do you work with the director / what is your involvement with the rehearsal process?  

I like to work closely with the director. I think the more you understand each other and how you create the concept for the play the more you can develop and move forward. I guess I would call myself more of a storyteller in design. I come from function and feeling and how best to tell the story first. I would love to be in rehearsal more than I am. The first half of rehearsals I am focusing on getting the show up and running and spend a lot of time in a fitting room! The latter half I go into rehearsal more to ensure that everything is working visually with the story we are telling. 

Who’s got their Hamlet tickets sorted?

Hamlet is running at Leeds Playhouse until 30 March 2019 – don’t miss chance to get your tickets! I’m really looking forward to this show – Tessa Parr, who plays Hamlet, is absolutely wonderful and so full of spirit. I’m excited to see how she takes on such a challenging and dark role. Watch this space for my review!

Photography by David Lindsay


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