Thursday 27 March 2014

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest - Put Our Service To The Test!

Last week as I was on the train I came across an interesting article that was talking about a new Tumblr blog ‘Wes Anderson Palettes’ which takes a look at the different colour palettes that the director uses in all his films.

Wes Anderson is one of my favourite directors because I find his attention to detail is absolutely astonishing. He's a director who has definitely crafted his own instantly identifiable look and feel and his films are well known to be incredibly beautiful, highly stylised, and very precise. Judging from previous interviews it seems he also approaches designing his films in a way very similar to a theatre set designer.
With the recent release of his new film The Grand Budapest Hotel there has been a lot of interest in the director in the media recently with people wanting to take a much closer look into how he constructs each scene and designs the 'look' of all his movies.

Wes Anderson // Centered from kogonada on Vimeo.

This video highlights how he centres a lot of his scenes, helping to put together that feeling that each scene is visually perfect.There is a great interview with Wes Anderson in this months Vanity Fair Magazine if anyone is interested in reading a bit more about the director  – something that he mentioned which made me smile was that he hated travelling by planes and will go by train if he can – there’s definitely a love there that you can see cross over as trains often feature very strongly in his films. Something I’ve noticed before also is his fondness for straight lines (its even been discussed whether his characters have an inability to move any way other than in a straight line) and having things, such as trains, running across the scene. Fantastic Mr Fox is a great example of this as in the ending scene as the camera pulls away from the supermarket and shows the landscape you see both a train and a plane cross over in perfect straight lines.

However, looking at the different palettes that are used in each scene made me consider how close this was to the way we design a show.

As one of the last remaining companies that still design and build all of our scenery, I think we are definitely in a position where we can comfortably talk about the design process.
Feeling inspired by looking at the Wes Anderson colour palettes I thought it’d be an interesting idea to look at our own designs and put together some colour and inspiration boards from a few shows to show how we put our designs together and where we draw our ideas from.

One of our most successful show designs has been our set for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which was chosen for the UK Premiere.
The ‘main set’ – Beast’s Castle Interior usually remains on stage as static scenery with different areas being used for different ‘rooms’ through use of lighting and extra set pieces, such as the bookcases. We also make use of backcloths and flats etc to recreate other locations such as the village and Gaston's Tavern. Looking at the set pictures you can clearly see that we worked around a theme of purple (the colour of royalty!) to create a palette that, depending on whatever lighting, could make the castle feel cold and daunting as well as warm and inviting when wanted.

It was important to create a castle that’s impressive and opulent – reflecting Beast’s early wealth and status before he was cursed, but also be slightly off putting – this is a prison not just to Belle but to Beast and all his servants who have been transformed into household objects. We also combined lots of different styles of architecture and artefacts to give an old but ‘timeless’ feel. Who knows how long they’ve been like that? Clearly long enough for the whole town to forget about the massive castle in the woods and the disappearance of their ruler.

When it’s an enchanted castle you can take a few liberties when it comes to researching the historical accuracy, and amazingly there are many pieces online where people discuss how as it is an enchanted castle that it would therefore be 'frozen in time' and a bit outdated. Out of interest I took a look at how historically accurate the original Disney film was. Clearly, none of the films are particularly historically correct - especially the Princess ones- and the fashions are usually inspired by what was popular at the time of release rather than time of the actual story. Sleeping Beauty’s off shoulder gown is directly out of the 1950s even though its directly mentioned by Prince Philip that ‘this is the fourteenth century’.

There has been a lot of discussion about the period that Beauty and the Beast is set in and usually its pinpointed at being around the mid to late 1700’s in France. Of course this is the time of the original publication of the French tale 'La Belle et la Bete' by Gabrielle Suzanne in 1740 (although the best known version was by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1756.)

In the Disney film Beast’s enchanted castle is a mixture between baroque and gothic architecture – with it later becoming much more rococo when it’s transformed. This is something we replicated in our set with the use of high pointed gothic arches and the gold gilt work.
I love that our castle has painted brickwork - I feel the bricks give it that gothic, cold edge and creates an atmosphere more akin to a prison with an intimidating atmosphere rather than being a comfortable, perfect fairytale castle. However the golds, ochres and yellows used for the window frames and the gilding also 'warm' the set up and under the right lighting the set can become very warm, cosy and inviting - like Belle's Library should be! Often when I've seen it performed the lighting technicians will gradually change from using quite harsh, cold lighting to gradually becoming more pink toned and warm to help signify the changing relationship between Belle and Beast - from captor and captive to friends.

The purples are therefore a great colour palette for this - as you can see in the photos the set can completely change colour depending on how it is lit. Purple can also go from being quite cold, dark and mysterious to very appealing and inviting - not to mention the connotations of royalty associated with purple.
In the Disney film many of the scenes at the Castle are washed with purples, greens and blues to help create an eeriness and emptiness - a direct contrast to the earthy village tones and bright country colours that scream freedom and fresh air. However, like on our set this does change throughout the film with the castle 'warming' as Belle makes friends and it steadily becomes more like a home to her.

Concept artwork for Belle's costumes in the original Disney film
A 1770's French Court Belle taken from Claire
Hummel's project on historically accurate princesses.
Have a look at her work here

When investigating the historical accuracy I also found it interesting to look at the characters costume - often a very important indicator as to where and when the story is based. Beast generally dresses straight out of the Regency period while Belle enjoys dressing in a combination of different ages. Her hooped skirt suggests French Court at the time of Marie Antoinette or even a fairly Georgian style and yet her uncovered shoulders and arms combined with the fairly low cut of her neckline would have been considered quite indecent. The low off the shoulder neckline and the long evening gloves therefore point towards Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ during the 1940s.
Beast's Regency Evening look in full swing
Thank god they are all under an enchantment because it would be a pain to try and pinpoint exactly what time period they all in if you wanted to do an exactly dead on historically accurate show - while based on the Disney film! This said when there's a much loved film involved the audiences often come in having already 'bonded' with the character and have a prior notion as to what she should be like - is Belle really Belle without her beautiful golden yellow ball gown?

As well as creating a visual concept for the show as a scenery hire company we also have other factors that we need to consider for our design and the eventual construction and use of the set.
A film has the benefit of being able to cut between hundreds of different locations – when designing the Beauty and the Beast Broadway show set designer Stan Meyer said he watched the film and noted about 50 different locations used. Any theatre – from the West End to a small community hall can of course never ever replicate this (as much as we’d like to!) simply because who has the space to store all that scenery?

Set designers for professional West End shows are able to design a show with a particular space and theatre in mind, as well as being able to collaborate with the director, cast and crew on what their overall ‘vision’ is for the show.
This is a great positive to working in professional theatre as you would know what facilities the theatre has that you can then incorporate with different features in your own set - such as being able to fly set pieces or actors in and out, or having an inbuilt revolve.
In our set there are a number of secret, hidden features that we have included that while add significantly to the set and it's design are not relying on the performance space having any special facilities. On our set the bookshelves are in fact hidden behind the panels of stonework which need only be revolved to transform the castle into a library, the rose loses its petals one by one slowly throughout the show, and to construct the magic tea trolley for Chip we even consulted the Magic Circle. It's part of our job to design something that's appropriate for any theatre or space rather than creating something that can only be used by one venue without any significant adaptation.

As we specialise in producing scenery for amateur shows or touring performances we typically have to design a show that’s going to be appealing and useful to a wide range of people and is adaptable to a huge variety of different spaces. While we do often try to collaborate with our customers if we are building a show new for their performance, we also have to consider what is going to appeal to other clients. Getting an order is usually down to whether people like your set or not (as well as the transport fee!) so it's always best to design a beautiful set with a broad range of appeal and adaptability. In fact our set for 'Beauty and the Beast' is a great example of this as our set for this show proved so popular with customers that we had to build a second, smaller version of it just to meet demand.

Another huge factor to consider is the ease of mobility and transport. 
A set is absolutely no good to us if it cannot fit into a lorry and be put up safely and easily. The majority of our sets have to be able to be moved quickly and easily by a stage crew doing the scene changes, or be constructed and put up in such a way that the production doesn't have long, tedious scene changes involving multiple pieces of heavy, hard set.
With our Beauty and the Beast set the Beast's Castle Interior has lots of different clever 'tricks' featured that can be used for lots of different scenes, while all on the same set. With an inbuilt jail for Maurice, bookshelves that revolve for Belle's Library and clever use of lighting, vignettes and trucks, as well as a host of beautiful backcloths, this set can help keep scenery changes to a minimum.

We also need to ensure that our sets meet all the safety standards, and that its well built and durable so that it can withstand the inevitable knocks it gets during transport and on stage. Of course we regularly refresh and update all our scenery in stock but it pays to make sure that its sturdy and of the highest quality from the start so that we often only need to give it a fresh coat of paint before it goes out, rather than having to totally replace it each time.

As it happens - we also have a rose that does this.
Through the years I think its safe to say we've produced some fantastic sets, and while I've managed to touch on the design process it really is only a very short summary on the extensive amount of work that goes into putting a full show in. As seen in Wes Anderson's films it's the detail that counts when putting a show together. 
If anyone is looking to perform Disney's Beauty and the Beast and would like to receive a brochure with more information on our set then please get in touch by emailing or enquiring via our website, or if course if you're passing through the area then you're always welcome to 'Be Our Guest!'
(Sorry - couldn't resist!)

Written by Tamsin

Picture Credits:
Wes Anderson Palettes
Vimeo - kogonada
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Claire Hummel at Deviant Art

Thursday 20 March 2014

Flash Bang Wallop!

'Half A Sixpence' starring Tommy Steele
'Half a Sixpence' is a show that is not so regularly performed anymore, but is undoubtedly a very funny and enjoyable production to attend anywhere.
With gags throughout the script and jolly musical numbers it’s one of the musicals where you can see a real influence from Music Hall, and heavily relies on the stamina and charisma of an exceptionally talented leading man in order to carry it through.

‘Half a Sixpence’ was originally written as a vehicle for pop star Tommy Steele (Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley) and was based on the original novel ‘Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul’ by H. G. Wells. While the musical was written to showcase many of Steele’s numerous talents an interesting fact is that why many people would assume that Kipps performing ‘Money to Burn’ (where he decides the first thing he’s going to buy with his new found wealth is a banjo) was just a chance to show off Steele’s musical talents and prowess on the instrument, in fact in the original novel a banjo is still mentioned by the character as being the first thing he will purchase.

Tommy Steele as Arthur Kipps
‘Half a Sixpence’ tells the tale of the life of Arthur (or Artie) Kipps, where he experiences an unexpected change of luck and inherits a large fortune, falls in love and becomes engaged to a rich lady from the upper classes, Helen Walsingham – to his rather abrupt downfall. Along the way he learns the important lesson that love is far more important than money and being a part of High Society - and also reunites with his childhood sweetheart, Ann.

Galashiels Amateur Operatic Society have a reputation for really setting the standards with their shows, and as expected delivered a lively, polished performance.
George Sidney directs Tommy Steele & Julia Foster
in 'Half a Sixpence' in 1967
With limited space on stage they always do a great job of utilising their performance area and the scenery that they had chosen (from us!) looked spectacular and really enhanced the show. Despite the number of different scenes and quick scene changes required there was something new to look at in every scene, but as everything had been chosen carefully to co-operate with what was happening on stage not only were they able to effectively ‘set the scene’  but at no point did the stage look at all cluttered-  even though at there were some dominating pieces of hard set being used that are better adapted towards a larger space.

Gala also utilised a number of backcloths well for different scenes – I thought the Municipal Park scene in particular really stood out with the inclusion of Cloth No. 850 Park Landscape and two conservatory flats – providing the perfect background for a game of cricket and really showcasing Kipp’s emergence into high society.

The cast delivered a superb performance, with each member not only pulling off a ‘down south’ accent but also having the stamina to not be (visibly) tired by the end of the show, even after all the extensive song-and-dance numbers!

The main standouts from this show for me were Ivor Lumsden, who played the camp Chitterlow to great effect with a very physical and dedicated performance, as well as Ruth Johnston as a statuesque Helen Walsingham, Carla McColgan who gave a very spirited performance, and finally Alaistar Waddell as Shalford. With his growls and movements he had the whole audience in absolute hysterics.
Of course, without question the lead himself Clark Eaton Turner as Kipps was the absolute star of the show. Despite the huge amount of lines, monologues, scenes and songs (Kipps sings in 21 out of 26 numbers) I was very impressed that Kipps did not falter once – neither missing a line or a cue. He also managed to give a very energetic, lively performance that wasn’t lagging by the finish.
He was a very charismatic performer that managed to make the character very likeable, and was smooth and confident whilst he was on stage.
There was also a great contrast between the two female leads – Helen Walsingham and Ann, the childhood sweetheart played by Carla McColgan. You often find yourself rooting for one women in these set-ups but I found both characters to be very likeable, yet with a clear contrast between Helen’s high society lady who was very controlled and polite, and Ann who was very sweet, sensible, and totally down to earth throughout.
In a way you see both Ann and Kipps ‘grow up’ through the show and the actors were able to effectively show the characters changing natures. You are first introduced to the characters as children but there was a noticeable difference between the cheerful and na├»ve Ann who first travels to Folkestone in search of ‘her Artie’, however by the second half she has mellowed and gone from spending much of her time pining for Artie to being a down to earth and fairly strong character, who despite Arthur’s pleadings for her to become more of a lady still insists on doing much of her housework and following what makes her happy. By the end of the show she is calm, happy and satisfied and the pair have very much made their own success through their bookshop. (Before receiving another unexpected landfall) And it is down to Ann that Kipps finally learns that money is not everything and that some things are more important.

Overall this was a fantastic show, we had a great time watching it and were truly entertained.
‘Half a Sixpence’ is incredibly funny and the whole audience were kept laughing throughout the performance and credit goes to its hardworking cast who helped the time fly by keeping up a quick pace, and delivering a polished performance.

Congratulations to Jeff Thomson and everyone at Gala Amateur Operatic Society on yet another successful show!

Pictures from Gala's performance are courtesy of Sheila Scott, who can be found at 
If you would like to purchase a disc of pictures from this show, or would like to hire her services please get in touch with Sheila via her website.

Written by Tamsin

Picture Credits:
Grovesey69 on Youtube

Wednesday 5 March 2014

'Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera'

Last week, we went to see Selkirk Opera's production of 'The King and I', here's our review

'The King and I' is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that was adapted from the original story of ‘Anna and the King of Siam’.
It was hugely successful and quickly became one of the world’s best-loved musicals due to the opulence of the setting, the comedic moments intertwined with romance and drama, and of course the great love between Anna and the King that neither can ever admit to.
Deborah Kerr & Yul Brynner in the 1956 film
The final scene between Anna and the King as he lays dying surrounded by his courtiers and family is so poignant that often there isn’t a dry eye left in the house, and the ballet ‘The House of Uncle Thomas’ is a beautifully composed and choreographed piece of theatre.
When first released the musical won several Tony Awards and the 1956 film adaptation featuring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner even went on to win an Academy Award, with Brynner receiving the award for Best Actor.
The King and I’ is one of my favourite musicals and therefore I had been especially looking forward to seeing Selkirk Opera’s production last week.

My first impression was that this was a well organised and well rehearsed cast. Every line was spoken very clearly and could be easily heard from where we were sat near the back of the Victoria Hall.
There were also no problems with people missing cues or forgetting lines, with every actor from the adult leads to the young children confidently knowing what they were meant to be doing and remaining in character throughout the whole performance.
A King does not forget lines
I often worry when I see shows about the children that are involved – ‘The King and I’ is an incredibly long show and it is easy for a young child to get bored whilst on stage and start fidgeting but all the children who were involved in Selkirk Opera must be commended on their commitment to their roles, and also for not being visibly self aware or getting embarrassed.

I was very impressed by the singing ability of the actresses playing Anna and Tuptim. All the leads did a good job of confidently leading the show and keeping the pace going. The King commanded the stage with an authoritative presence whilst Anna was the sympathetic schoolteacher with a clear influence over her charges, but uncompromising when needed. Tuptim was played very convincingly and both she and Lun Tha had the audience rooting for them to make their escape.
It's good to be King
However, a real standout performance was the ensemble of Royal Wives and their Head Wife Lady Thiang. Occasionally Lady Thiang can be played as quite a cold, calculating figure however with this performance I still felt like there was a real warmth to her character, alongside her commitment to doing her duty.
I really saw her as being a smart and powerful influence behind the King, but of course being clever enough to advise subtly, while the Royal Wives provided a light, comedic foil to some of the more intense scenes. They worked well together with the children and were a real asset to the overall show performing a rousing rendition of 'Western People Funny'.
We were also very pleased to see Lewis Wilde give a very convincing performance as Prince Chulalongkom. Lewis has previously done work experience with us here at The Border Studio so it was fantastic to get to see him in the spotlight. He worked very hard and left a great impression on us all during his week and after seeing him paint scenery in overalls we almost didn't recognise him up on stage in his costume!

The lighting and the costumes complimented our scenery very well and visually I thought the show looked magnificent. The use of Backcloth No.115 King and I Rooftops behind our red and gold King and I flats really created an opulent vision of Siam, and there was a good use of staging. The inclusion of our pair of beautiful Foo Dogs on plinths, book shelves and a decorative throne on a dais, or the Gold Buddha centrepiece and even the small sets on either side of the extended stage sides were used wisely to cleverly create all different rooms in the palace while still using the same core set.

Buddha, available to hire. Approx 6 ft
 Overall, we really enjoyed ourselves whilst watching the performance. The orchestra played beautifully throughout and we often found ourselves nodding our heads or tapping our feet along with the music. The ballet of The House of Uncle Thomas was a particularly engaging sequence that had been choreographed well. In fact, the only downside to the whole evening was our lack of success in the raffle!
A huge congratulations go to Selkirk Opera on a successful show!

Written by Tamsin

Foo Dogs x 2, can sit & play dead

If you or your society is considering putting on The King and I then please get in touch with us and I can send you a full colour brochure which includes pictures of our set in action, full stage plans as well as lists of the props and furniture that we have available to hire for this show.

We offer a completely flexible service and you only need to hire what you want – whether that is a full show or just a few small props. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you.
Call us on 01750 20237
Email us at 
Or visit our website here

Picture Credits:

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Theatrical Pancakes (it's not just a makeup!)

Hooray for Shrove Tuesday – the tastiest day of the year!

A day where it is considered perfectly acceptable to feast on pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even have mini ones as snacks.

However, creating the ‘perfect pancake’ can be an absolute minefield as, similar to making the perfect cuppa, everybody has their own unique way of going about it. From crepes, to American style, to protein pancakes there seems to be a multitude of different ways just to cook them, and that’s not even counting the millions of different possible toppings that you can choose from!

No doubt many of you will be tucking into these!
You can even eat your way around the world by sampling toppings favoured by each country, from (my personal favourite!) the American buttermilk pancake, served with lashings of syrup (preferably maple!) and sometimes accompanied with crisp, streaky bacon, to the delicate sweet or savoury filled French crepe, or the classic English topping of lemon juice and sugar. At the German Christmas Markets there are always a handful of pancake stalls selling crepes smothered in chocolate sauce, fruits and cinnamon, and of course we must never forget the Scottish drop scones.

However, we are theatre lovers and therefore enjoy things that are a little more unique, so rather than offering a list of already well-known mixtures we thought we could present you with inspiration for some rather more creative recipes.
Scroll down through this post and see if there’s anything you might try tonight instead of your traditional go-to recipe – you may even find a new favourite!

  • Birthday Cake Pancakes
For those who love colour and can handle something a little bit more sweet. These are perfect for occasions such as birthdays. The icing and coloured sprinkles help make a stack of pancakes that are not only extra delicious, but also look just that bit more special. 
Accompany with extra long lit candles or sparklers for that finishing touch!
These are the kind of super sweet pancakes a character like Cinderella would crave (if she ate carbs) 
For the recipe click here

  • Strawberry Funfetti Pancakes
Again with the sprinkles- but you could choose to not include them and just have strawberry heart pancakes.
If you like having strawberries (or any fruit) on your pancakes then this is a pretty cool way to incorporate them into the design. Plus if you took some care with cutting them these could be some pretty show stopper Valentines pancakes! (or just show stopper anniversary pancakes)
The sprinkles and the strawberries make these pancakes look like something Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would whip up!
For the recipe click here

  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow Pancakes
Officially Dorothy's favourite. 
This is definitely one for the children as they seem to get a real kick out of 'normal' food that's a wacky colour (does anyone else remember Heinz green ketchup?) 
To make these just make sure you have easily washable surfaces, yards of wipe clean tablecloth, gallons of food colouring - and that you don't mind your hands looking tie dyed.
For the recipe just use any buttermilk pancake recipe and add food colouring!

  • Bunny Bobtail Pancakes
For any picky eaters or animal lovers these require very little effort but look adorable. Also, with just cream and some strawberries they are very simple and won't overpower anyones taste buds.
These would work well at Easter - not just because of the rabbit theme, but also their simplicity may also work well with all the chocolate eggs that were no doubt consumed pre-breakfast! 
What we would call a 'deceptive treat.'
Alice would snack on these as she dreamt about Wonderland and her old friend, the White Rabbit.

When Pinterest Strikes...
Pinterest is a great resource for anyone looking for unique recipes and if you liked the 'bunny bobtail pancakes' recipe there are a whole host of different animals you can recreate. Be careful though as some of the recipes can be very tricky and your cute teddybear can quickly become the stuff of nightmares. If you're recreating lots for a children's party or brunch event then we'd recommend testing the recipe first, so that you can make sure you're serving 'Mr Fox' rather than Toad of Toad Hall!

Strawberries & Champagne - a perfect combination!

  • Champagne Pancakes

The perfect pancakes for those who celebrated well into the early hours after a wonderful closing night. How else could you finish off that finale champagne as well as enjoy a good breakfast? 

For the recipe click here

  • Baked Apple Pancakes
This decadent and intricate dessert is rather more Evil Queen than Snow White.
Featuring plenty of cinnamon and a spicy apple cider syrup this is the perfect pancake to warm you up on a cold day.
For the recipe click here

Pancake Heaven when served with a dollop of ice cream

We hope you enjoy your pancakes as much as we've enjoyed putting this post together! Our mouths have certainly been watering at all the pictures!
Let us know how you get on, and what you think of our slightly more off the cuff recipe ideas.

Written by Tamsin

Picture sources: