Military Toreadors, body smuggling factory workers and a hint of flamenco...

Interview with Christopher Hone, designer.

1. What were your initial thoughts when asked to get involved with this production?
When I was first invited to work with OperaUpClose I was very excited. I have designed numerous productions at The King’s Head Theatre and worked alongside Robin, though never actually with her on a project. This was a great opportunity to collaborate with an exciting company that have produced a load of great operas. And now I get to create with them. And Carmen is such an iconic piece!

2. How and what have you researched in preparation for designing Carmen?
Robin’s interpretation of Carmen led me along a very different path to what I thought I would be researching. Somewhere between the 1950s and 70s in a South American urban wasteland of a desert; with military Toreadors, body smuggling cigarette factory workers and a hint of flamenco was a very interesting prospect. Starting with the basics of location in history, and geographically I looked at merging them to produce a slightly off-kilter, abstract world where our naturalistic characters could sit.

3. What concepts are you most excited about making a reality for Carmen in terms of staging?
Robin’s ideal of telling a story that is accessible to a contemporary audience allowed me to create an abstract space for the narration. Stripping back from the lavish classic opera design style we are able to cut to the bone of the story and allow it to rest on an exciting, yet neutral, backdrop - focusing your gaze on the characters’ development, the music and the plot.

4. How would you describe your style to someone who has never seen it, is there a similar style/branding that appears throughout your work?
I would say that I do have a style of design, though it may not always be strongly noticeable. I like to take the concepts that are being discussed in the piece from the director’s lead and find a way of creating an environment that expresses those themes, whilst obviously giving a sense of time and space. I like to make my sets and costumes transform throughout the production, taking the practicalities of creating theatre, with all it’s restrictions, and never compromising but turning those necessities to our advantage.

5. What's the most challenging aspect of designing Carmen?
The most challenging part of designing Carmen has probably been creating a solid world for the characters to exist in. As we have set the piece in a somewhat abstract space it’s been fun making a realism from that abstraction. For example, the soldiers having a military base but still firmly routed in a bullfighting costume we were able to produce an exciting realism that exists only in the world of our Carmen.

6. How did you become a designer? What other work have you done similar to Carmen?
I became a production designer, through Paul Norris, a set designer who tutored me at Ravensbourne Art College on my foundation year. He truly inspired me and taught me that you could actually do it as a career. I then went on to study it at university where we learnt all aspects of the trade and finally came out into the world assisting Tim Hatley on a number of big shows. Finally I branched out on my own as a designer and haven’t looked back. I did work with OperaUpClose on the revival of Tosca, in more of an associate role as the basic design already existed. I took that base and ran with it to give it a new lease of life at Soho Theatre.

7. What was your proudest moment as a designer?
Most productions I do have that moment of pride; when you see an audience get what the team have been striving to produce. If the design fits in seamlessly with the production and they leave understanding, enjoying and emoting with the story they have experienced. But specifically I think Carmen has produced my proudest moment to date. Most of my work to date has involved me having to build or paint large parts of my own set designs which I know can limit my design as I am not a master carpenter or scenic artist. But with Carmen, for the first time, I was able to arrive at the Belgrade Theatre workshop and see my design in full. Standing exactly as I imagined… finished. It reminded me why I love designing for theatre.

8. What's a typical day like in the life of Christopher Hone?
I’m afraid I can’t give you a typical day in the life of Christopher Hone. It is such a varied, intangible object. I work on numerous projects at once so there’s plenty of time juggling and planning involved. I may be sourcing vintage furniture or locked in my computer drawing up technical plans of Norwegian filigree. I could be in costume fittings or in discussions about how to build a mountain of human waste. There are plenty of hair-pulling moments as are there eureka ones, all heading towards whichever deadline approaches at that time.

9. What should we be looking out for in regards to the design of Carmen - any tricks or secrets to reveal?
I think that would be giving it away! But I do love the development of the billboard throughout. And, of course, the blood!

Carmen is at Soho Theatre, 5 August - 19 September 2015
Buy tickets here