BUSHCYLING: How we’re improving our sustainability, one stage set at a time

When you watch a new show at the Bush, you’re seeing a brand new set every time… or are you? 

Putting on a production can use a lot of resources: from energy for lights to purchasing costumes and furniture to the timber needed to build sets and scenery, so we try to reuse materials as much as we can.

So when you see a new show at the Bush, you’re often seeing many of the same materials from the show before (redressed, repainted and re-chopped). We affectionately call this phenomenon… Bushcycling

From the interior of the flat of House of Ife to the many revolving settings of The P Word, our materials and sets take many shapes and sizes over a year. This sustainable approach lets us reduce our environmental impact, keeps costs lower and minimises waste from each production. 

Follow the journey of materials through a year at the Bush. 

Let’s start with some wood…

House of Ife. Photo credit Marc Brenner.

We’re throwing it back to our 50th Anniversary Season, which started with House of Ife by Beru Tessema, directed by Lynette Linton. Set in a London flat where family tensions soon explode, a lot of wood was required to achieve the floors and walls of Frankie Bradshaw’s design.

We’re going to follow this wood back into our workshop and onto its next adventure…

First, some of the some wood ordered for House of Ife featured in every show for our Studio season.

Featuring four completely different productions, this season was a revolutionary new approach in sustainable design for us as every show happened on the same set designed by Georgia Wilmot.

The shifting worlds of Nikhil Parmar’s Invisible, Will Jackson’s Clutch, Anoushka Lucas’ Elephant and Tania Nwachukwu’s The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English took the wood on a journey of identity, music and a whole lot of driving throughout the year in the studio.

Invisible, photo credit Ali Wright

Clutch, photo credit Ali Wright

Elephant, photo credit Henri T.

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English, photo credit Ali Wright

Then, the majority of the wood from House of Ife was reused as part of the Favour set. This devastating family drama about a mother coming home from prison by Ambreen Razia and directed by Róisín McBrinn and Sophie Dillon Moniram featured a classic living room set by Liz Whitbread which felt like a natural progression for our wood: from one home to another. 

Favour, photo credit Suzi Corker

After this, some remaining wood was used very differently in Waleed Akhtar’s Olivier Award winning The P Word directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike and designed by Max Johns. Rather than being the walls of a home, this time our wood became part of the jagged revolving circle which created the two worlds of Zafar and Billy as they met and eventually fell in love. 

The P Word, photo credit Craig Fuller

The very last of the wood was then rebuilt one last time, becoming part of the conference-room-esque interior of Rosie Elnile’s design for Margaret Perry’s Paradise Now! directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart. Our wood had gone on a journey from London flat to house to an ever-transforming box for the many locations and characters of Margaret’s tender and thrilling Oliver-nominated play. 

Paradise Now! photo credit Helen Murray

Now how about the carpet?

At this point, we leave our wood behind with the final parts of the timber we’ve come to know and love all season being dedicated to local schools and drama groups alongside many furniture and props from Paradise Now!

But this isn’t the end of our sustainability tale as we also found new uses for the carpet tiles which lined the floor of the set and took on a very different role since then…

Taking a backstage role, the carpet from this set was used to muffle the sound of footsteps behind the set in Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini’s Sleepova directed by Jade Lewis and designed by Cara Evans. A funny and powerful tale of four women growing up the characters danced and hugged and mucked about to the delight of audiences whilst the carpet of Paradise Now! supported us in delivering a show offstage as well as on.

SLEEPOVA, photo credit Helen Murray

It’s a role the same carpet has continued to serve for Tyrell Williams’ sold-out hit Red Pitch as it returned to the Bush this September directed by Daniel Bailey and designed by Amelia Jane Hankin. Here, the carpet kept our stage management teams’ footsteps quiet as they set props, costume and much fried chicken behind the set for the actors during the show. It’s not always a glamorous life, but some carpet has to do it!

The cycle repeats…

Six months into our new season, and Bushcycling is stronger than ever. We opened with AJ Yi’s A Playlist for the Revolution, a thrilling production that played out over the jagged Hong Kong skyline of blocks designed by Liam Bunster.

A Playlist for the Revolution, photo credit Craig Fuller

This custom flooring was reused for our energising Young Company show As We Face the Sun by Kit Withington and directed by Lynette Linton and Katie Greenall.

As We Face The Sun, photo credit Harry Elletson

Following this, the raked wooden floor of Hazel Low’s set became the floor under Anoushka Lucas and her piano in the main house transfer of Elephant, directed by Jess Edwards and designed by Georgia Wilmot.

 Elephant, photo credit The Other Richard

From here, we’ll be keeping materials in our workshop to move into next year’s programme and the new season and see how far the wood, carpet or furniture can go once more!

Bonus points: Spot the Bushcycled furniture!
And as an extra bonus beyond our shows, the sets not only move from show to show but also become part of the fixtures and fittings of the Bush itself. If you look around our spaces, you’ll see that Bushcycling is everywhere. Enjoy your coffee on the sofas from Paradise Now!, play a tune on the piano from Elephant, or pull up a seat on the blocks from A Playlist for the Revolution that once made up the Hong Kong skyline. 

Not only is it good to our planet, but it lets the legacy of these gorgeous plays live on for long after their run.