F*ck the Polar Bears | Meet the Designer

Chiara Stephenson talks us through the design process of F*ck the Polar Bears.


What is the overall concept behind the design for F*ck the Polar Bears and what were your influences when working on this?

The concept was to create a fragile level playing field on which the characters and the play can voice their varying opinions on the issue of climate change and global warming. With a rotating set, the idea was to shift the audience perspective from scene to scene. So our view into the world of our characters is always changing. Each character has a different view point, as does the audience from scene to scene. The set acts much like a rubix cube!

With the design being in the round and with a fragile skeletal frame work set between actor and audience which fades in and out of the spectators consciousness… The design sets out to highlight our ever changing awareness of the bigger picture which then gets distracted by the more immediate needs in front of us.

We are at times meant to feel very connected and immersed in the action of the room and then at other times view it all from a more detached, exterior perspective which allows us hopefully to consider the bigger picture and the broader problems beyond household dynamics.

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© Chiara Stephenson


How did you work with the director Caroline Byrne to develop the set and costume design?

Caroline and I worked very closely together throughout the design process. First establishing the key issues of the play and base concepts it raised and then working through all sorts of ideas and options until the right combination of elements settled into something we felt comfortable would serve the play well.

We didn’t want to patronise our audience with obvious environmental references or be distracting with visuals. We hope that the design we have come up with supports the play’s message and also demands its audience to take responsibility and have a better awareness.

What are the challenges of designing a play in the round?

The challenges of directing in the round are that you can’t hide anything! It’s a very exposing way to stage a play but that felt so right for this piece which sets out to expose responsibility. It’s great also in the sense that the audience are much more immersed in the action and involved. Everyone is close to the action however from a directing point of view it can be tricky to keep actors moving and never allow and actor to have his or her back to a part of the audience for too long…

How can set design be used to explore the character’s relationships with each other and their state of mind and how have you explored this with F*ck the Polar Bears?

The stage is set in a hallway of a home. The cross roads of a house where people collide and converse but never settle or resolve issues. The slightly presentational clinical nature of our hallway is intentionally uninviting but forces our characters to deal with each other and not retreat into the comforts of home.

The skeletal light frame work also acts as a canvas for Gordon’s mind and conscience, enhancing his mental unravelling and psychological journey. We use the frame to enhance Gordon’s perception of his environment, both immediately around him and also with his fears of what lies ahead.

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© Chiara Stephenson

What is the most satisfying part of being a theatre designer and what advice would you give to any budding theatre designers out there?

The most satisfying part of being a theatre designer is being able to enhance and enrich the way an audience absorbs and experiences a play.

Personally, as someone who struggles to absorb information solely from text, if there’s a way that visually through design I can help and not hinder the act of storytelling, and bring the words, and space between the words on the page to life, then that’s exciting.

It’s a lot of hard work, and not glamorous by any means but very satisfying and rewarding to bring wild and wonderful visions to life. I would advise any budding theatre designers to go for it. Take risks, stay up all night to get it done and stick with it. Don’t waver. Put in enough hours and you will succeed at it. Also, don’t just go and see lots of theatre. See lots of art, go to gigs, sponge on all forms of culture and entertainment, not just theatre. This will make your palette way richer when it comes to designing yourself.

The world premiere production of F*ck the Polar Bears by Tanya Ronder runs here at the Bush from 11 September – 24 October. Find out more here.