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Challenging people’s thinking: Cécile Trémolières on Hole at the Royal Court

8 December 2018 Natasha Sutton-Williams

Cécile Trémolières has designed theatre sets and costumes for the Young Vic, Wilton’s Music Hall, National Theatre of Scotland, and had her work exhibited at the V&A museum. Now, she has designed a wildly elaborate set for Hole at the Royal Court, the debut play written by Games of Thrones actress Ellie Kendrick, directed by award-winning feminist theatre company RashDash. 

London Calling: What is Hole about? 
Cécile Trémolières: It is a feminist piece about the human gaze, particularly towards women. It’s about bridging the gap between how women are physically, in terms of what actually forms their skin, bones and organs; and how women behave in society - how they have been oppressed throughout history. The show harks back to the Greek myths, how they were written and how they transformed the image of women. In these stories mostly they are portrayed as victims yet they are accused of all sorts of crimes. In Hole these ideas are compared to the #MeToo movement, but not in a direct way. The piece is also about the universe, the galaxy, particles, and atoms! The show’s breadth is massive. 

Image: The Royal Court Theatre via Facebook

LC: There are lots of unusual stage directions in the script. What has it been like designing Hole’s world? 
CT: I was excited by the fact that it wasn’t a straightforward play. Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, the directors of Hole and co-founders of RashDash, describe it as a stage version of Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. In Lemonade you have lots of songs and a bit of text. In Hole you have lots of text, but also songs and dance. We have been working on how we take all these different elements and create one singular arc. 
There was something thrilling about crafting such an epic show in the Royal Court’s upstairs space where the audience is right up close to the action: to be able to see the actresses’ sweat, to feel threatened by the performers, and to have this opportunity to look at women in very different ways for an hour. Creating a framework for them to behave in that way was exhilarating. 

Image: The Royal Court Theatre via Facebook
LC: What inspired your design for the show? 
CT: I looked at a lot of feminist art, but it was not particularly helpful. However, there were two female artists that particularly inspired me. Katharina Grosse is a German painter who makes huge graphic installations. There is something liberating, mammoth, and unapologetic in her work that felt right for Hole. Paula Rego is a Portugese painter who creates semi-realistic paintings of strong, grounded women. Her work felt useful in terms of the energy of Hole. 
Anish Kapoor also inspired me with his use of perfect, almost scientific, galaxy-like holes and circular sculptures. He works a lot with perception in his art. I wanted to create a space that could put the audience off centre. I wanted the audience to come into the space and experience vertigo. 

Image: The Royal Court Theatre via Facebook
LC: In what ways can you be artistically subversive as a set designer? 
CT: As a set designer you’re not simply illustrating the play, you’re not designing a living room for a play that occurs in a living room (although maybe sometimes that’s cool). You try to challenge yourself to find and create a world that isn’t directly illustrative. You want to create a space that conditions people to think and question whatever they are listening to on stage. If you do that, you have done a good job as a designer.
You also need to sustain a show. It’s not just about characters entering into an art installation and doing their thing. There is always a timeframe with plays, so the set needs to follow and morph as the play moves forward. In terms of being subversive, it’s about finding the balance between creating the play’s world that the actors can inhabit, pushing the set’s meaning towards something surprising and inventive, and keeping in mind the show’s basic needs. 

Image: The Royal Court Theatre via Facebook

LC: What is your favourite place to go to in London for inspiration? 
CT: I love going to the Photographers’ Gallery, the V&A, the Welcome Collection, Goldhawk Lane, and the Saatchi Gallery. Inspiration can sometimes be difficult because people share culture through Netflix or Facebook or Time Out. Arty people in London tend to go to the same exhibitions; you can inevitably see when shows are influenced by the same trend. To find quirky places is difficult, and with Internet algorithms it’s even harder because the people you spend time with veer towards the same type of content as you. Algorithms subtly transform your inspiration. I like going to libraries (particularly the library at the University of the Arts, London) because you can find things that you never expected. Finding something special when you aren’t looking for it, that you chance upon, is a treasure hunt that makes it worthwhile. 
Hole premiers at the Royal Court Theatre 28 November 2018 – 12 January 2019. For more information and tickets, please see the website.

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