Designing Nicholas Nickleby!

Here we are – three weeks from the first rehearsal. And while this is the part of the process that many people generally think of as the beginning, it is not. For example, most people probably don’t realize how far in advance the design team begins working on a show. Our team has been furiously working for months now to create the Victorian world of …Nicholas Nickleby

The “Crummles Company” section of the play-where Nicholas and Smike join a troupe of actors and find success and much happiness-is truly a love letter from Dickens to the theatre. And in many ways, this section of the play has helped to focus the vision of our production: a company of actors here at The Lyric Stage Company presenting the play of Nicholas Nickleby to you-and perhaps even with you. 

Beginning there, our designers tackled the challenge of how to bring 1830s London to The Lyric. Janie Howland, whose work has been seen in such favorites as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Urinetown, has almost finished the scenic design already. Janie has been working with using different textures (wood, brick, cobblestones) and creating various levels and spaces that can take our audience to London of the mid-1800s and beyond. From the cold and northern county of Yorkshire to the slums of London’s East End, from the tired and work stage in Portsmouth to the very fashionable Opera, we needed a world that would allow us to quickly transform our locations while still giving us the feel of each individual world. At the same time, we hope to bring the audience into each location immediately and completely. This design does not end where the line of the stage does . . .

sketch of Nicholas Nickleby Set

Our fabulous costume designer Rafael Jaen has been researching and sketching costume pieces all summer. When going over some preliminary ideas in a meeting with Spiro and me, Rafael told us he was “illustrating” this play more so than designing it. This idea of illustrating this play-filling in key moments completely while leaving certain details and other moments to your imagination-resonated very strongly with me. Now of course, this does not mean that you will see people half-dressed on-stage. However, when one is playing a starving young resident at Dotheboys Hall, perhaps just a few key pieces, such as a hat and gloves or a scarf, will allow the actor to transform into this young boy. Rafael also spoke of focusing on the silhouettes from the period, once again giving a strong, clear outline while allowing each audience member the freedom to fill in some of the smaller details with their own interpretations and imaginations.

sketch of Nicholas Nickleby costumes