CST’s Education staff met with Scenic and Costume Designer Lucy Osborne when she visited Chicago in the summertime for pre-production meetings and to present her set model to the Chicago team.
Preliminary renderings by Lucy Osborne
CST: Lucy, how did you and [director] Josie Rourke decide to set the play in the Elizabethan period?
Lucy Osborne: We could set Twelfth Night in any period. We ultimately felt that the social codes and the formality of the play fit best within the Elizabethan time frame. In the play, there are references to specific Elizabethan practices—they talk about “cross-gartering” and a “box tree.” It doesn’t have to be a box tree, but if it’s not a box tree, what is it? Finding solutions out of context can be a completely valid way of approaching a production. But the more we talked about it, the more we felt that we wanted to root it in that Elizabethan sensibility—the formality of these two houses, the social hierarchy and the idea of status, which feels so specific to this time. Each of the characters has a specific position within society.
The sexual ambiguity of the clothes at that time is also really interesting, which is so helpful when Viola dresses as Cesario. In that period, men’s and women’s clothes were made by tailors to the same patterns. Men’s and women’s doublets were constructed in the same way, with allowances for body shapes. There still exist first-hand accounts written by people who hate this trend, that women are wearing doublets and look the same as men. “Why can’t women be more feminine?” It’s an age where the men are trying to emulate Elizabeth I and become more feminine, and the women, also because of Elizabeth I, are becoming masculine. The queen had to take on many manly traits in order to run the country. Sexual ambiguity was really important to this period.
CST: How did you settle on the idea of your scenic design?
LO: Our starting point came from an image that Josie had in mind when we first started talking about Twelfth Night—the play begins with Viola falling in the water and landing in Illyria. In water, things get lost, people get lost. It’s dangerous. There are storms. Viola gets pulled out of that danger and into a surreal land—Illyria has an Alice in Wonderland quality, with larks and games and messing about. Viola comes into this world, the outsider into this strange, dysfunctional land, and shows them what love can be. We wanted to set the play on a pier—on this pier here in Chicago. So there’s the sense that this pier is slowly disintegrating into the sea, and then Viola climbs out of the water and into safety, rescued in this slightly strange and uncontrollable world.
The play is all about broken love and seeking to make a whole. We started talking about the sense of completion, and the idea of two halves making a whole—whether that’s Viola reuniting with Sebastian in brotherly/sisterly love, or the different lovers finding each other and finding peace and love. We wanted to explore the idea of the heart shape, two halves of a heart creating a whole heart. They are unknowingly playing in this sort of carcass of their hearts, which also has the look of the hull of a ship.
CST: Does the whole play then take place on the pier and surrounding water?
LO: Yes, although Elizabethans would not have had a pier like the one we designed. They would have been practical, for boats to dock. In the UK, that idea of the seaside pier that juts into the water is from Edwardian and Victorian times. There’s something about a pier that suggests a voyage into the unknown, doesn’t it? It’s a statement of sheer ambition, just for the fun of it. Walking out to sea down a long, thin strip that takes you out from the land and into the middle of the sea—it’s completely impractical, it serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.. People like venturing out, we like to go out into open spaces, and pleasure piers are just fundamentally playful and sort of decadent: so expensive to build, so expensive to maintain, and yet, certainly in the UK, we adore them, we absolutely love them. The idea of promenading and piers for pleasure—the idea of leaving the city, going to the seaside for your holiday, and walking down the pier—that’s just a complete part of our culture.And here we are, at Navy Pier, set on one, as well.
CST: Eight million people come out each year, just to “promenade”—more visitors than to any other Midwest attraction. They wander out here, they buy lemonade and funnel cakes. It really is a “pleasure pier.” How are you imagining that Twelfth Night’s pier will work as a scenic element?
LO: We wanted a really fluid space. I think the play is best served by an environment that’s very flexible. Shakespeare works so well when you just let the words breathe. We didn’t want to impede that in any way, we wanted it to be a loose, open space. We’ll have lots of elements that we’ll bring on, to give a sense of being on a really beautiful, hot, summer holiday, where you’re as happy in the water as on the beach. And they all love the water—apart from Malvolio, who absolutely can’t stand it. Everybody will be barefoot throughout And they’ll take off their jackets and be in short sleeves. It’s a very comfortable, hot place to lounge around—there’s a laziness that you get from Orsino’s court. Orsino’s court will be incredibly populated and very masculine. These boys hang out, go hunting and fishing, and don’t do much of constructive value. They are all seeking pleasure.
CST: What about Olivia’s household?
LO: In Olivia’s world we get a fractured landscape. There is pure pleasure and there is pure pain, completely coexisting, a contrast that is most heightened in her world. Toby and Aguecheek are in the water quite a lot, mucking about. Olivia is somewhere in the back, austere and distant, trying to work out exactly what it is that she is feeling and wanting, and how she can achieve that. The two households will feel different because of the clothes and the colors, and the props that we introduce into the space. During the play, they find warmth and love and the set, the fractured heart, fills up.
CST: How will you, as both the set and costume designer, reflect that heart getting fuller as the story progresses?
LO: Interesting things can happen in terms of color when you put costumes in there. For example, Olivia’s palette changes enormously as we go though the play. First we see her in mourning, in a very dark dress. When she meets Cesario, she throws aside her mourning, and we see her in garments that are more elegant, with more color. Then, in essence, she runs and gets her wedding dress, one she has secretly ready, and we see her in ivories and pink. Color can do a lot of the transformation.
In the final scene, when Sebastian and Viola reunite—everybody’s onstage for nearly the whole of Act 5. Up until that point, Feste and Viola have an equal life in both courts as they wander between the two, but all the others—Orsino’s boys and Olivia’s court—exist only in one place or the other, and aren’t together until that final scene. It will inevitably be a cacophony. The groupings will be very specific, with their own palettes. In terms of populating the last moment and making it feel alive, where the play has felt quite fractured up to that point, it will all come together in harmony. All those people on stage and all that color—we don’t need to illustrate it too much, and just let the words do the talking.
Learn more about the Designer's Process.
Learn more in an interview with Director Josie Rourke.