Whilst she was working with Rae Smith on the costumes for The Tempest, Birmingham Royal Ballet's Lorna Burke talked to the ballet's designer about, well, monsters, of course!
'For me, one of the great things to be asked to do is to make monsters', says Rae. 'In straight theatre you don’t get a good old monster to design very often, because the actor will be somehow be portraying the monster from within rather than from without. He or she will be monstrous rather than look like a monster. Whereas in ballet there’s a sense that the monster needs to be seen from without too, which is fantastic'.
'Visually, The Tempest is loosely set in a time period between 1548 and 1615. When you look at the maps of the time, covered in drawings of sea monsters, you see the world in terms of exploration, and get a sense of that extraordinary fear of the unknown. Dolphins looking like mermaids with fearsome teeth, and snake-like creatures that will sink a ship. That’s very much the world we’re in with this piece: meeting these strange new worlds, and phenomena that people will never have seen before.'
'The greatest monster designer or all time has got to be Ray Harryhousen,' Rae says, clearly a big fan of the Hollywood special effects pioneer, 'for example, his amazing work in Jason and the Argonauts with the sword-fighting skeleton men.' She mock screams with delight. 'I don’t think anyone will ever recover from them, coming up from the ground from the hydras teeth. And also the hydra itself, and medusa as well, that’s another great one of his. We love those things because they hit the heart of horror and beauty'.
Rae explains that Tempest prop-costume maker Robert Allsopp (who made the Rat heads for The Nutcracker when it premiered way back in 1990) is even more of a fan than she herself is: 'He’s a big 'Housen fan,' she nods, 'and grew up as a Doctor Who fan and a Jim Henson fan, and a 'most-creature-movies' fan. His world and his imagination thrives on making these amazing props and costumes, and he’s certainly made some extraordinary things for us for The Tempest'.
So will we see the Harryhousen influence on stage? 'Well, our beautiful and mercurial Arial does in fact turn into a harpy, so I have a marvellous monster right there! And we have quite a few other monstrous creatures as well…!'.