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Interview With Theatre Designer, James Button

With the launch of Worst Wedding Ever at Salisbury Playhouse, I managed to get an interview with James Button, Designer within the creative team for the show. Make to check out the 1:25 scale model of the set below.

James' extensive theatre career includes Disgraced and Charlotte's Web (Singapore Rep Theatre), Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet (Ambassadors Theatre), The Nutcracker (Unicorn Theatre), Johann Strauss Gala (national tour) and King Lear (Young Vic Clare). James is an Associate Artist for Iron Shoes Theatre Company and has designed productions for them including Fen and Mad About the Boy.

His career spans into television with work as Costumer Designer for Watch Over Me (series 4). He also designed the costumes for the 2012 Olympic Games and 2014 Commonwealth Games welcoming ceremonies.

Tell me about yourself and your role within Worst Wedding Ever.

Having trained at Wimbledon School of Art, I am a UK based Theatre Designer. I work in many different genres of theatre including new writing, dance, musicals, classics, opera, stadium arts and children's theatre. I am currently the set and costume designer for Worst Wedding Ever.

Talk me briefly through your process.

I find it really important to understand the writing and director’s vision before I begin to think about design. So spending some time getting to know the text and discussing it with the director is where I would normally begin each project. This then means I always have a strong grounding to refer back to conceptually and filters my imagination.

The set of Worst Wedding Ever. Designed by James Button. (Photo  Credit - The Other Richard)

Photo: The set of Worst Wedding Ever. Designed by James Button (Photo Credit - The Other Richard).

Which aspect of Worst Wedding Ever has allowed you to have the most fun creatively?

The band entrances - Gareth Machin (the director) wanted me to explore different ways the band could be introduced to the play during each scene change, until they eventually find themselves in the story. As the play is set in a very real world this gave us brilliant opportunities to create heightened theatrical moments.

How much have you had to understand the characters and the plot in Worst Wedding Ever before you could start working on the design?

My normal process is to create the world and then create the characters that inhabit that world. So the costume design comes a little later in my design process. I tend to start with very much an overview of how the characters sit against each other so as an audience we can make a judgement of who this character is and how they affect other characters in the world. The costume design process really doesn't finish until the production has opened, especially in a play set in modern settings. The actors themselves bring so much to the characters and so they are very much part of the process.

Photo: Worst Wedding Ever - James Button 1:25 scale box design model of set. (Photo  Credit - James Button)

Photo: Worst Wedding Ever - James Button 1:25 scale box design model of set. (Photo Credit - James Button).

Photo: Worst Wedding Ever - James Button 1:25 scale box design model of set. (Photo  Credit - James Button)

Photo: Worst Wedding Ever - James Button 1:25 scale box design model of set. (Photo Credit - James Button).

You have done design for many exciting productions. Have you got a favourite style to design?

What I love most about my job is that I get to experiment with different styles of design all the time; that’s what keeps each new production as exciting as the previous. Also I still feel like I am learning all the time. Every play brings new periods, places and people to research and absorb so there is never that feeling of covering old ground. I really enjoy new writing as you normally have the opportunity to work with the writer and this gives you extra insight into the plot and characters that you can apply to the design.

How much does budget and time constraints hold back your creativity?

I like to think that budget should not limit your imagination, just the way you apply it to design. Time constraints are also just part of the process and over the years you learnt to trust your instincts and cut out too much procrastinating when you are limited in time.

What got you into design?

I was brought up by a very creative family and was always making things as a child so I was destined to have a career that would use my creative flare. By the age of about 12 I had set my goal on being a set and costume for theatre and started my training at the National Youth Theatre in London in their costume department before heading to Wimbledon School of Art to study BA(Hons) in Theatre Design.

Describe to me how it feels to watch a live performance which you helped to create.

There is always an element of nerves, hoping that everything technically goes to plan, also a sense achievement to see 6 months (or more) of work come together. Mainly I feel really humbled and proud of the team that have collaborated with me in creating the end result.

If you could only have 5 things in your design toolkit, what would it be?

Imagination, 2b pencil, scaled ruler, watercolours and a sense of humour!

Worst Wedding Ever by Chris Chibnall will be showing at Salisbury Playhouse between 2nd - 25th February 2017.

MayInspire full review of Worst Wedding Ever coming soon.

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