When Designing a Sleeping Trees Christmas Show, it is an experience like no other! Not only are you considering the usual traditions expected from a pantomime: quick scene changes, magic tricks and fantastical characters, you are also working with three comedians, playing 20 characters, with no back-stage dressers who only work with a full design once a year. What could go wrong?
But collaborating with this madcap group is what pushes me to go beyond the “Pros-Arch“ traditions, creating a toy box like set in a collision with all the panto rules that feels fresh and exciting. The premise of the design is pushed by their story within a story. 2019’s Goldilocks and the Three Musketeers was to be a simple reading of Nana’s fairy-tale book, but all the endings to their favourite fairy-tales have been stolen by evil Queen Alice; leading the boys on a quest into Wonderland to find them. Nana’s attic becomes a child like play ground of imagination making use of everything on stage to transport us to other worlds.
With this in mind my top tip to the design approach was to driven by story and respond to the space like a site-specific production, thus becoming Nana’s attic. I kept an element of a traditional Pros Arch created from branches as though growing round the attic framing our stage, later these could be lit making forest shadows or glittering white when in the Antarctic. We were limited in stage-tricks you find in fully equipped theatrical space that aid with scene changes but I did not let this become a hindrance. Inspired by photographer Tim Walker who creates fairy tale shoots in old stately homes this allowed us the freedom to create anything the boys dreamt up embracing the changes with my design premise making the mundane magical including the flying snow man with the simplicity of a ladder on casters, a snow storm using the audience throwing scrunched up paper and characters created on the spot with house hold items like a lampshade for the Mad-hatter’s hat. All these elements could light up the imagination of our captivated audience proving we can tell stories by bringing any space to life making magical theatrical happenings.
Zahra Mansouri graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA (Hons) Design for Performance. She has been nominated twice for an Off-Westend Award and enjoyed a 10 year position as Associate Designer for Fourth Monkey TC designing 75 shows in rep seasons. Recent work includes: Production Design for 'Typical' (Soho Theatre), 'Immersive Experience' (Backyard Cinema) and gaming feature film 'Ancient Others' (Red & Black Films). As Costume Designer, Zahra worked on new musical 'P.S. I’m A Terrible Person' and was Costume Associate for 'Peter Grimes' (Basel Theatre, Switzerland). Zahra is looking forward to her role as Costume Associate for 'Faust' (WNO). Zahra has also been a competitive ballroom dancer and prides herself in approaching design with a knowledge of movement and how it enhances performers' physical potential whilst interacting with their theatrical space.