The Society of British Theatre Designers

The Value of Design

Atlanta Duffy

Communicating Passage, January 1924. Late afternoon

Communicating Passage, January 1924. Late afternoon
  • Production: Semi Monde
  • Company: Guildhall
  • Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Year: 2008
  • Author: Noel Coward
  • Directed by: Alistair McGowan
  • Choreography by : Wendy Allnutt
  • Lighting Design by: Emma Chapman
  • Costume Design by: Atlanta Duffy
  • Set designed by: Atlanta Duffy
  • Photography by: Nobby Clark
  • Design © Atlanta Duffy
  • Image © Nobby Clark
Set variously in the Foyer, Lounge, Terrace and Bars of the Paris Ritz between 1924 and 1926, Coward’s play charts an extravagant social merry-go-round where private lives intertwine and unravel in public places. The director’s initial instincts and my research into the period led me to Edward Steichen’s 1920’s silver prints. Their depiction of natural forms on the cusp between voluptuous full bloom and decay seemed an apt metaphor for the lives and times of the play. I worked one of his images into the curved wall of the set and Emma Chapman’s lighting reinforced the cyclical, claustrophobic qualities of both play and space. Light subtly transformed this Chinoiserie-like image to give it an unsettlingly living, creeping presence. Coward asks for a scene set against opulent display cases. Ours were concealed within the wall which, when lit, revealed bejeweled limbs not waving but drowning.