Reimagining Sydney Theatre for Macbeth
With Alice Babidge’s extraordinary design, the vast Sydney Theatre has been turned back to front for STC’s reinvention of Macbeth, with Hugo Weaving playing the title role. Babidge spoke to Cec Busby.
“My mother is absolutely horrified because I look everyone up and down. I do it without judgement – it’s about taking it all in,” says Alice Babidge, costume and set designer on Sydney Theatre Company’s reinvention of the Shakespeare classic Macbeth.
“It’s like I’ve got this weird filing system in my brain, so if I’m trying to construct a character, I might remember ‘so-and-so wore this orange jumper and it looked as if it had shrunk a little bit and made them feel uncomfortable so they held themselves a little awkwardly…and oh that would be perfect for this character’.”
It’s observations like this that make Babidge’s costumes and designs so effective. Actors love Babidge’s attention to detail and directors adore the collaborative vision she brings to a project. Little wonder she is one of the most prolific and sought-after designers on the Sydney theatre scene. Indeed Babidge hasn't had a day out of work since she graduated from NIDA in 2004.
But in one of her boldest moves as a theatre designer, Babidge will be flipping everything around inside Sydney Theatre for Macbeth, which stars Hugo Weaving in the title role. The audience will be seated on stage and the actors and set will take over the auditorium space.
Above: Alice Babidge inside the Sydney Theatre auditorium. Babidge has designed the set and costumes for STC’s production of Macbeth, starring Hugo Weaving in the title role. Photo: Robin Hearfield
“We’re using Sydney Theatre in a different way,” Babidge tells SX. “I’ve worked in that theatre so many times that it feels great to tackle it a new way and find a way to put a set in the auditorium that doesn't feel like an imposition.”
Babidge says in order to achieve this she had to think outside the box. “I like an awareness in my theatre-making – so you know you are seeing theatre. So to find a way to make that occur naturally, is a challenge for me. When I was showing the set to everyone I was very nervous because I thought it doesn't look like I’ve done very much … But I think it’s enough to put the audience on stage, and the stage in the auditorium – we don’t need much more.”
For MacbethBabidge will not only be tackling the set design but costume as well. She tells SX sometimes it’s nice to “do the whole world”.
“The way I work, so many notions of the set and production are theatrical gestures and common elements found in theatre and theatre making. And with the Scottish play that extends to the costumes as well,” she says. “We’re using really recognisable things – a stage, a chair, a curtain, a King who wears a crown. It’s totems and playing with archetypes. I think it’s something I do a lot in my work, particularly my costumes. But this time I’m using costume in a more adventurous way than I often do. I hope it works out.”
This is an abridged version of an article that first appeared in the July issue of CULT magazine, out now.
Macbeth, Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, until September 27. The season is currently sold out, however a limited number of tickets will be released daily, and are only available through the Box Office on (02) 9250 1777.