BT: Chalet Lines is your first project at the Bush. What were your initial reactions?
LT: I've worked with Madani many times in the past, and we always have a good time. I like his approach to directing––that even though there might be absolute intensity within the acting and storytelling, the world doesn't have to be a realistic one. And I love the potential of the Bush's new space. It's intimate, which makes it a good venue for comedy. Even though there's a darkness in this play, it's anchored by the wit of the writing.
I was also drawn to the piece because I'm from the northeast of England. The fact that a northern voice we're hearing on stage is something that reminds me of growing up, of being there in the warmth and humor of the people. A lot of the work I do is opera and other people's lives, and this feels a bit more personal.
BT: If you had to describe Chalet Lines in one sentence, what would you say?
LT: It's a fast-paced delve into life, and the payoff is a really good night with lots of humour. Lee's a brilliant bringer of universal truths in a very cogent way. It's a good night out. It's gonna be funny. It's got party poppers in it and Cava. Lots of Cava. And it's very witty.
BT: How has it been to design the Bush space?
LT: I thought it was important to create something that was specific to the space--I wanted the audience to be in the space with the actors, in the chalet, to break down that fourth wall. I wanted to echo what one of those spaces is really like, but break that apart into a humorous way––a dynamic takeover in which the audience feel part of that space. I wanted to do something that encapsulates the Butlin's aesthetic and color, and to get at that intangible sense of what northern Britain is like.
And it's been great looking at the world I'm from, at the fashion of Newcastle. People really push style up there; its much more colourful and dressy than other parts of the country.
And the periods in the play are really interesting times. The early '60s feel slightly austere and simple––there were the shadows of the second world war, people had lived through rationing and hard times, and I felt we needed to reflect that in the costume design. 1988 is the era of the Spice Girls and colour and shine and glitter––and that compliments the look of 1961. And 2010, the recent past, is very difficult to sum up. You see a big jump from '96. And it's also about reflecting the life of the characters and how they've developed as they've aged––what they aspire to, what they're trying ot hide, what they're relationship with each other is. We're working hard to make the costumes tell that story. At the Bush, audiences are close to the stage, so we have to tell those stories in a very detailed way. I had a fitting this morning and we tried three different hemlines on a dress. It's nice working in a space where you can be almost filmically detailed.
BT: What's rewarding for you in the design process?
LT: The exciting bit for me is when all the discussions and designing become a reality, when you solve the problems.
It's very organic, theatre. It would be boring if everything were straightforward, but things go wrong all the time, and practicalities have to be taken in. Often mistakes are useful because they open up new possibilities. We have to work within a budget, but I never think of it as having to cut things, I think we move them on and develop them and decide what's really important for the piece. Those are all useful tools. Restrictions are a good thing.
BT: Why do you design?
Design is creativity, but it doesn't happen in a vaccum. It's meant to be seen, it's meant to tell a story. I believe design isn't just the background people stand on, but an intricate part of the theatrical experience. The words of the play are so visual, and I have to give a world where those words can be alive without reiterating it. It's an intricate dance. I feel privileged to take something people will come and spend a couple hours of their lives getting involved with and responding to, putting the ideas under pressure, and opening it up--I may have had something specific in my head, but the interpretation of those ideas is open, and I find that really thrilling. I always feel it's a good job if people say something to me I hadn't thought about.
BT: What's your best advice for people interested in similar work?
LT: Take risks, be prepared to fail––it's the only way to move on.
Chalet Lines opens at the Bush on 6 April. Follow designer Leslie Travers on Twitter at @LeslieTravers