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setting the stagepull quote

via dolorosa stage

a conversation with ian macneil

The set is very spare and elegant, what were the creative factors that went into the final design?

The play is a mediation on what theater is. David felt it was inappropriate to apply art or artifice to the subject of the Middle East.

So from the beginning, scenery seemed a strange notion when there wasn't a play.

David could have written an article for the Times, but as a playwright, he wanted to create an experience that explored the complicated situation. So he wrote a monologue to be performed in front of an audience, so even if it's not a play with conventional characters, you are in a theater, it is theatricized…

So that raised questions of how much artifice is appropriate.

In London, we were lucky enough to have a romantic crumbly Victorian theater. We just dressed the proscenium to match the back of the stage, we painted it and then aged it. But when the play moved to Broadway, we had to recreate the romantic sense of an undressed theater.

David walks to the stage on a thin foot bridge; explain the thinking behind that design...

To heighten the tension and dramatize the precariousness of David's venture, the floor had been voided and we built a rickety bridge to the platform. The platform heightens your awareness that he is poised, doing something he has not done before. I tried to make that tension engaging.

There were also craft decisions, like to raise the platform quite high so his full figure can seen by everyone even in the balcony; and it was flexible-- he could be forward of the proscenuim and be with us in the audience, or he could go upstage and become part of a picture-- a figure inside an arranged landscape

We also didn't mike him. It made the experience very tactile and sensual-- you can hear differences in different parts of the stage.

It was a very amusing blend of pretending to have not done anything and creating a context in which a few tricks are satisfied.

How did you choose the chair and desk on the set?

David was an untested performer we did not Hare at deskwant to encumber him with too much production. And we created props to help him adjust to being on stage. The chairs on either side of the stage gave him a place to go to. I finally found a desk and chair that were not glam, but simple and open so that the audience could see him through them. We found furniture that might have been in a dusty village hall at Bexhill-on-Sea. It's in the text, as he drives through the West Bank and the pale, stony landscape, he thinks of his Sunday school in Bexhill-on-Sea.

The furniture also created sort of a boxing ring in the middle. He could fight in the ring and then retire to the chairs on either side.

Tell us about the model of Jerusalem that appears towards the end of the monologue…

The model of Jerusalem was based on series of watercolors by David Roberts did of the Holy Land and Egypt in the early 19th century. Roberts had an eye and skill for scale and drama. I came across the drawings and they were so epic. The landscape was romanticized.

The format of the opening through which you see the model was letterboxed, I wanted it to look like a David Lean shot from his 1960s epics (Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago) with some depth and drama.

It was really a diorama like you did in school. I also wanted it to feel like the picture in a children's bible. And the effect in the theater was of an eye opening and shutting. I wanted the audience to wonder, gosh did that happen or not?

Ian studied at Croydon School of Art. In the theater his designs for the Royal Court include Body Talk (Theater Upstairs) and Death and the Maiden.

For the Royal National Theater; Albert Speer, An Inspector Calls (West End, Broadway, Japan and Australia, which has received various awards including The Critics Circle, Olivier (1993) in London and the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards in New York) and Machinal (Critics Circle Award).

Opera experience includes designs for Paris Opera and English National Opera including Ariodante and Tristan und Isolde (Olivier Award for Best Opera Production 1994).

Film and Television work includes the Schubert song cycle Winterriese for Channel 4; the ten minute film Eight for Working Title and an ad for Archers Peach Schnaps.

In 1999, Ian designed costumes and environments for the Pet Shop Boys album Nightlife and then staged the World Tour which followed its release.

He is currently working on a new Carol Churchill play at The Royal Court and a Monteverdi opera for Bavarian State Opera.


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