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A partnership by design

It’s been said before that good design is invisible, but bad design is everywhere.

Design, whether in fashion, theatre, architecture or the automotive industry, is a critical element of success. It’s not just about form or function. Design taps into our psyche and can influence thoughts, feelings and experiences.

When thinking about excellent design, dedicated theatregoers may recall a brilliant set or costume from the mind of one of the great Australian designers who have worked with State Theatre Company South Australia – Ailsa Paterson, Victoria Lamb, Jonathon Oxlade. It’s something we take pride in as a Company.

This is also true for one of our valued corporate partners, Mercedes-Benz – great design is one of the elements for which they are most historically and globally recognised.

This focus on beautiful and intelligent design is a uniting force for State Theatre Company South Australia and Mercedes-Benz Adelaide & Unley, whose partnership started in 2021. As Production Design Partner, Mercedes-Benz Adelaide & Unley have engaged with some of our most artfully designed shows of the year, with particular emphasis on the future-focussed design of Hibernation, which recently finished its season in the Dunstan Playhouse.

Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer and directed by our Artistic Director Mitchell Butel, Hibernation explores the personal impact of political decisions in the near future, starting in 2030 and moving, over three acts, to 2040. The action of the play also moves across locations – from Adelaide to Los Angeles, Korea to Colombia, Nigeria to Canberra.

The challenge facing the Hibernation design team was to reflect these different locations and create an experience that felt futuristic without being entirely alien.

“The design for Hibernation is very pared back,” says Jonathon Oxlade, the set and costume designer. “The space is white, like an art gallery. The hope is that everything we place within the space has meaning, without clutter or decoration.”

The costume design is similarly clean, intentionally allowing space for Finegan’s detailed script to breathe and draw focus.

“The costumes draw inspiration from the past but with small tweaks, such as different necklines or waistlines. The clothes should feel familiar but slightly off, helping to create a sense that we are in a time slightly in the future,” Jonathon explains.

The lighting design attempts to balance the realistic feeling of the near future reflected in the costume design with the more abstract elements of the set design.

“The lighting is quite futuristic and filmic in some senses. At times, we are trying to portray naturalistic images, and the lighting assists with this, but the play is set within a quite non-naturalistic world so there are those elements, too,” says lighting designer Gavin Norris.

“Each act of the play has a different feel and will be uniquely lit, allowing us to build the image we want to get to towards the play’s conclusion.”

Colour is used within the lighting and costume design to help create the feel of the different locations and time periods across each of the play’s three acts.

The set design also shifts between acts – the first has minimal furniture, the second sees furniture built up to create the feeling of a deserted space or cityscape, while the third is extremely pared back with a large circular set piece used variously as a bench, bar, bed or platform.

“In a sense, it’s very contemporary, but hopefully we integrated enough of our real world to create a feeling of warmth and humanity,” Jonathon says.

The resulting design for Hibernation has been praised by critics and audiences as “elegant”, “superlative” and “satisfyingly minimalist” – making it the perfect production for Mercedes-Benz Adelaide & Unley to support as Production Design Partner.

State Theatre Company South Australia is supported by partnerships with a variety of organisations. Find out more about our partnerships on our website here.

Find out more about Mercedes-Benz Adelaide here and Mercedes-Benz Unley here.