Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) graduate Lee Newby has described his first West End set and costume design for Labour of Love as “the biggest calling card I could hope for.”
Lee, who completed the Theatre & Performance Design degree course in 2011, added “It’s a massive breakthrough. It could define the work I go on to do next year. Hopefully it will open up new possibilities with producers and directors that I already have a relationship with but also lead to work with new collaborators.”
Political comedy Labour of Love stars Martin Freeman and Tamsin Grieg. This new play, written by James Graham, opened at the Noel Coward Theatre in September. It follows the fortunes of the Labour Party from 1990 and the tensions between party modernisers and traditionalists as it moves through the Tony Blair era to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It made the design brief particularly challenging for Lee. “It’s a very complex play, set in the same office over a 27-year period.
“It moves both backwards and forwards in time throughout the show, this requires the actors to quick change into different costumes between scenes, while stage management transform the set,” explains Lee.
“There are two identical office spaces mirrored on a revolve so one side can be redressed while the front side is being used, allowing for maximum impact when the next scene is revealed. Political footage is shown between scenes giving some context and keeping the audience engaged without interrupting the fluid running of the play.”
"Working with other students on productions at LIPA, provided an incredibly useful skill set for work in the real world"
The production’s been a critical success, with positive reviews across national media. Lee says that level of exposure brings its own pressures. “It can be nice working in smaller venues because if you do make a mistake less people will see it, but in the West End a lot of people will notice.
“Thankfully though, with this I feel I’ve achieved something that I can be proud of.”
After he left LIPA, Lee worked for Olivier and Tony Award winning designer Christopher Oram on productions across the UK and America, including seven productions with the Michael Grandage Company. Lee had first met Christopher and Michael when they held a masterclass at LIPA.
Lee believes his time at LIPA allowed him to flourish under Christopher and Michael, where he became an associate designer. “Having the framework provided by the experience of studying and working with other students on productions at LIPA, provided an incredibly useful skill set for work in the real world.
“Going into associate work I could use that experience to learn even more. You never stop learning – I’m still learning now.”
Another graduate of LIPA’s Theatre & Performance Design course is joining Lee on the West End this month. Chiara Stephenson is set and costume designer on Glengarry Glen Ross, starring Christian Slater and Kris Marshall, which opens on 26 October.
Labour of Love runs until 2 December.