Q&A: Mark Thompson

Date posted: 22 Jan 2014Author: STC Production: Noises Off

Mark ThompsonSet designer Mark Thompson last worked with Sydney Theatre Company on the classic Restoration comedy The Way of the Worldby William Congreve. In Noises Off, his detailed set is so pivotal to the action of the play that an unpainted version was built for the actors to rehearse on from the first week. To see the set in all its farcical glory, you'll have to go along to the Drama Theatre.


Have you seen a production of Noises Off before? Does recalling other sets you've seen for a production help or hinder you?


I've never seen a previous production, but recalling other visuals related to the period AND trawling through countless old back issues of English House and Gardenand Tatlermagazines from the 70s were a huge help.


With Noises Off taking place in the 70s around the rehearsals of a fictional show called 'Nothing On', your design is both a period piece and a set of a set. Can you describe some of the joys and challenges of making this happen?


The 'show' set for 'Nothing On' was always intended to be a pastiche of a badly manufactured, slightly cartoonish shopping mall set with a 'real' backstage set behind it. The show set needed to satisfy the specific demands called for in the script: many, many doors to very specific off-set locations and at the same time suggest a heightened set of visuals to background the performers.


Were there particular 70s influences that you drew on for this design?


As someone who went to art school in the 60s and 70s, it was a bad trip down memory lane!


A farce tends to need doors. In your professional opinion, which doors tend to be funnier?


A farce ALWAYS seems to involve doors, this is especially so in this production. I've always had a predilection for double-action swing doors, but these have been deliberately excluded from our show. Too easy!


Apart from designing sets, you're also a successful painter and ceramicist. How do these disciplines cross over into your design practice, or are they quite discreet?

As with any creative endeavour, everything tends to cross-fertilise and inform all activities. All activities require thorough research and an accumulation of experience and information. One can never know enough, there is always more to discover.