The Beggars Opera is one of the last examples of the once thriving genre of satirical ballad opera. It is a tale that focuses on the life of the poor. The opera is set in the underworld of London, It specifically focuses on a gang of highwaymen and a gang of Prostitutes who all work for the same man, Peachum.

Peachum is the wealthiest character in the opera. He controls the lives of the poor, when they are making him money they survive, as soon as they become useless he turns them into the law. Each way he makes money.

Previous to the opera’s beginning, Peachum’s daughter Polly has married one of the highwaymen; Macheath. This causes arguments within the family, which leads to Mr and Mrs Peachum plotting to turn in Macheath. This moment is what prompts the rest of the opera. We see Macheath behind bars, where the sailors daughter; Lucy, interacts with him.  We discover they were ex- lovers which then creates tension between Polly and Lucy. Lucy has access to the keys to Macheath’s cell, and although she hates him for ruining her and not marrying her, she lets him go. He is caught again and thrown back into jail.

What Is also interesting about this play is that it is introduced by 2 characters; The beggar and The Player. These characters are only seen in the first and penultimate scene. The last time they are seen is after the play has finished, which sees Macheath go to the gallows. They discuss this scene and then revise it to a happier ending. I think that these two characters make the play more interesting, but also easier to watch.



This term our focus is 18th Century theatre. We have been given the choice between two plays from the era to design for. The designs will be for the RSC’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The two plays we have been given are ‘The Recruiting Officer’ by George Farquhar (1706) and ‘The Beggars Opera’ By John Gay (1728). Both the plays explore ideas of class however both are very different.

The play I have decided to focus on is ‘The Beggars Opera’, this is because I think the play is the more interesting of the two and so has more to play with. In reading the play a key theme of rebellion stands out to me, and so has led me to consider trying to incorporate the 1970s subculture of the Punk movement into my design scheme. I think that this could give the show an edge and also make it more relatable to modern culture.


Hogarth’s Beggars Opera etching



For when the audience walk into the space, I want the set to be contained within the screens. That way the show is not given away straight away.

Opening Reveal.jpg


The screens will open out to reveal Franvera in her normal messy room. A hint of medical still remains due to the screens and the bed. All of her belongings, that will soon become the characters costumes, are strewn on the floor alongside her drawings.



For the party scene, the cast will come on and put up the bunting. The table will be wheeled into the space with glasses on it. This is the moment the red shoes are handed to Franvera for the first time. The bunting could also be used as a dancing ribbon.



The bed will be moved into the centre of the space. This is the scene where the soldier arrives in Franvera’s house and is attempting to force her out from under the bed.



To create the forest in a more lateral way I want the bunting to be pulled around into shapes that the actors can crawl and step through. I want them to almost become branches. I also like the idea that the screens could be wheeled around the space to form pathways.



The doctor is the only character that is not a part of Franvera’s imagination. She is the only real person in the play other than Franvera herself. For this reason I wanted to make her really different, this is why I chose to not physically include her. I want the doctor to be created through shadow puppetry and sound.



A key image in this play is that of the edgeless room. To create this image I want to utilise the screens. Use them as boundaries that keep getting broken. I like the idea of the boots pushing through a lycra type material. Also I want people to be climbing through.



This scene also takes part in the edgeless room. Franvera is drawing her little pictures, and they come to life, they become massive to almost form a wall. I thought this was another good opportunity to play with shadow puppetry again.



Within the play Franvera draws the refugee camp with ‘the lines of washing blowing in the air’ this led me to consider having the cast hang out some washing on the bunting lines for this scene.



The last scene sees Franvera shot by Red Beard. She leaves the stage by walking into a beam of light, heaven. For this project there is no way to get LX, so I thought I could attempt to create this with the screens and some back lighting.



My design for the touring production of Red Red Shoes is to be set on a traverse stage. I intend to focus the design around the concept of being inside ‘the head of a traumatised child’. I think that this is a significant theme within the play, one that could create something really interesting. For example, as the play is set inside a young child’s mind, it allows the design to be slightly more fantastical (a little bit off). As well as focusing on the mind of a child, I will also look at incorporating a medical feel into the design. This is due to the fact the story continuously flips back to sitting in hospital interacting with a doctor about what has happened to her.

For the opening scene I wanted it to feel relatively normal. The idea that you are within a normal child’s bedroom, but also leave questions there too. One of the key ideas within this scene is that I would like the costumes for the characters in the play to come from Franveras room; as if they were coming from her imagination. An example of this would be the red scarf hanging on her bed becoming Red Beard’s beard. As the actors put on their costume, they strip the bedroom a little barer, until it eventually becomes a stark medical space.


The next space that I have considered is the Drs office. Here the scene would be very stark, very medical. A singular hospital bed in centre stage with lit up medical screens at either end. The doctor as a character, I would like to appear as a shadow puppet; as someone who is excluded from her imagination. Also within this space a small medical table is brought on with a laptop.

I intend to attempt to solder some of these elements together when making my model box. I see them as all being plain silver and metal.


When Franvera is forced to leave the town by the soldiers, she enters the forest. To create the forest I want something more ambiguous than literally bringing on trees. So for this scene I have thought about using the bunting to give the illusion of a forest. I want the characters to be able to weave through the bunting as if it were hanging branches. A possible change that I would make to this scene is to make the bunting more autumnal colours, rather than bright red.

To aid the image of a forest I am also contemplating adding different things to put on the floor. These would be to create noises, for example crackles and snaps. This would help the children to imagine the forest even more.


Another strong image in this play is that of the Black Boots. These are the symbol of the soldiers, of Franvera being ripped from her home, Of her losing her father and ultimately of her death. I think that this is a really important image to get right.

I like the idea of the screens containing the boots, and then also the idea of the cast climbing through the screens with big boots on. The idea of the boots coming through the wall of screens also helps to portray the sense of the room being ‘edgeless’. This is another key theme mentioned within the play; The idea of reaching ‘the edge of the edgeless room’. This offers the idea of the containment of the surgery, and also the unstable elements of the young child’s mind.

Another idea I had for this scene was to utilise the bunting in another way. It would be an interesting image if the bunting were to clip to the screens, and then encircle the screens. I think this adds another layer of madness and being trapped.


The last space that I have considered is the refugee camp. Again I have considered using the bunting as a scenic element. I came up with the idea of creating a tent around Franvera with the bunting. Although I think this could become interesting aesthetically, I think that  practically it would create some issues.



I made the decision to design a tour-able show for the play Red Red Shoes. The set, props, costumes and any technical equipment all have to fit into the back of a van, and be set up by the cast within an hour. We have been given a cast of 4-5 actors and 1 stage manager to create this show. This means that 8 characters and all of the cast roles have to be shared between a maximum of 5 actors.

A key thing about this project is that I really want to keep it as simple as possible. I want to focus on a key concept, and cleverly configure a design that portrays it. At the moment I am thinking of focusing the set design around the concept of the head of a traumatised child and also looking at the medical centre.

I like the idea of a traverse production that somehow includes the audience more than the average production. I am considering incorporating a way for the children to get involved by making noises that add to the scenes being set in the play. An idea that could be interesting is experimenting with a way to encourage the children to stamp their feet when Franvera begins to dance.


Last week we were lucky enough to have a mask maker named Stephen to come in and teach us how to create traditional paper masks. The masks were all to be half face masks, this makes it easier for the wearer to talk and breathe etc. It also makes the whole process quicker, which for us was something we needed.

Our masks were based on characters from one of the two plays; Red Red Shoes and The Ash Girl. Once we had chosen our character, we then picked an adjective out of a box. This adjective would then give our masks emotion. My character was a Wretched Old Lady.

The week began in the workshop with a bit of rough sketching. We were asked to create a continuous line drawing that responded to a number of silly questions that Stephen gave us. A couple of examples of the questions were; What do they smell like? If they were an animal what animal would they be? What landscape would best describe them?

I then flipped the drawing around, moving it so that I was able to pick out key shapes that I could translate into a 3D mask.

The first stage of the mask making process was to sculpt a design out of clay. We used already cast plaster heads, and built clay onto these. A professional mask maker would ideally do a cast of the specific actor that the mask was being made for. Unfortunately for us we did not have enough time within the week to do this too.

The pictures above illustrate the first step of creating my mask. I used small ‘sausage’ shaped pieces of clay to outline the eyes and the edges of the mask. These were the boundaries in which I worked when adding the clay.


To characterise my mask I decided on a large crooked nose, almost witch like, and a hollow bone structure to show the age of the character. An important tip I learnt from this step of the process was to consider the features as lines and planes and not as edges. This important as when the theatre lights hit the mask, the planes pick up light, but the edges would not. I also added wrinkles to the face to help to show the emotion and the age.

The next step in the process was to wet the clay and then cover it in tin foil. The tin foil layer helped to keep the moisture of the clay away from the paper. I found it difficult to do this layer, as it was so easy to rip the foil when smoothing it into the deeper areas.


After the foil it was time for the first layer of paper. We used a mixture of PVA glue and wallpaper paste, better known in the business as cow juice. For the paper we simply used ripped up brown parcel paper. The process is basically that of papé mache.


Creating this mask requires 3 layers. 2 of which are layers of the brown paper (above), between these 2 layers we also added a layer of J cloth. To apply this we used a mixture of PVA glue and polyfiller. This layer makes the mask stronger and more rigid. The only difference with this layer was that we did not put it over the eye wholes or any further than the edges of the mask.


Once we had completed the 2 layers of paper and one of J cloth it was time to remove the mask from the mould. To do this we used the foil to slowly peel it away. Preferably the mask would have slipped completely off the clay, which it did for some of the group, but unfortunately for me my foil took the clay with it. This made the process lengthier for me as I had to scoop all of the clay out of the mask. Once I had completed this lengthy task I then had to embark on another, which was the job of peeling all of the silver foil away from the brown paper, which again took ages.

From this point it was time to trim the mask. This involved getting our scalpels and cutting out the eye holes and nostrils, also trim around the actual mask. Once we had created our cuts we then got the brown paper back out and papered all of our edges.

We now had our mask. The only jobs left were to attach elastic, paint and test them out.