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In conversation with Elin Steele, Set Designer for Kill Thy Neighbour

Have you ever wondered how a set is created for the stage? How every little detail is perfected for effect and the work that goes into such a large-scale production? 

Anwen caught up with Elin Steele, Set Designer for Kill Thy Neighbour, a comedy thriller performed here at the Torch Theatre for a limited run only, starting tonight on 24 April until 4 May. Elin is a Linbury Prize Finalist and recipient of the Royal Opera House Bursary for 2020 and is a RWCMD Honorary Associate. She has a 1st Class honours in Design and Performance.

Tell us a bit about how you got into the role of Set Designer? 

Back in 2018, I graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, having studied a Design for Performance degree course. I had thought about becoming a costume maker, however the course covers an amazing range of industry practices, and whilst I was there I realised I also loved set design. My recent projects have covered both set and costume - a new adaptation of Prokoviev’s Cinderella for Scottish Ballet, choreographed by Christopher Hampson, and Branwen: Dadeni, a Welsh language musical for the Wales Millennium Centre and Cwmni’r Frân Wen, directed by Gethin Evans.


As Set Designer for Kill Thy Neighbour, what was the first thing you did when you arrived at the Theatre?

I had a chat with Chelsey Gillard, the Artistic Director of the Torch, and the show’s director. We chatted about what visual style we were aiming for; the piece is both dark and funny, so we needed to strike that balance. For the scratch model stage, we worked out the structure of the house, and then following that we started to think of the various textures required to create a naturalistic space that could also be abstracted through light.


What challenges did you face as set designer for Kill Thy Neighbour?

It was difficult to get the tone right. It’s a comedy with lots of dark elements and I didn’t want elements of the set to contradict each another. Lucie Lovatt’s writing is very specific as regards what the actors are doing on stage and the space they occupy. I wanted it to feel real, sinister, and eerie but at the same time make it a house full of character where people had lived in for decades.


If someone would like to follow in your footsteps and become a Set Designer, what advice would you give them?

Any experience is good and ideally you should have an interest in art, theatre, plus potentially history and photography. Costume is a great way of portraying social history, so it’s a good idea to read up on period costume and get an idea of changing fashion history. It’s useful to see and know how fashions, architecture and clothes have evolved.

I’d also advise going to as much theatre as possible - different formats; site specific, immersive, dance, spoken word - they’ll all influence your design practice.


What are your recent theatre credits?

Kill Thy Neighbour (Theatr Clwyd); Cinders! (Scottish Ballet); Branwen:Dadeni (WMC/Frân Wen); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Sherman Theatre); The Scandal at Mayerling (Scottish Ballet); Anne of Green Gables (London Children’s Ballet); Passion (Hope Mill Theatre); Firebird Reimagined (McNicol Ballet Collective); A Hero of the People (Sherman Theatre); Faust+Greta (Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru/Frân Wen); The Merthyr Stigmatist (Sherman Theatre/Theatre Uncut); Why Are People Clapping? (NDCW); Llyfr Glas Nebo (Frân Wen); Dextera (Scottish Ballet); Woof (Sherman Theatre).

As young associate: Romeo and Juliet (Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures).


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