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Interview with Designer Lez Brotherston

For many, a visit to the ballet is a Christmas tradition. It’s an opportunity to visit your local theatre; coming together with family and friends, to escape to a wintery world full of glitter and sparkle.

While our venues are closed, Scottish Ballet is bringing the magic of theatre into people’s homes with our first ever feature film The Secret Theatre, streaming 21-24 December. We’re inviting audiences into an empty theatre, to remind us of all the wonder that lies in wait when we return to the stage. 

To achieve this, we collaborated with multi-award-winning set and costume designer Lez Brotherston, who designed our productions of The Snow Queen and The Nutcracker.

What does the word theatre mean to you?

Theatre is an all-encompassing word. It’s about what I do, and what I make. It is where I work, and where I'm most comfortable.

Theatres are the most welcoming place in the world. They are where I create, and they offer a medium in which I can translate things that are in my head, into reality.

Theatre allows me to communicate with audiences. It becomes their home, and we share a communal experience.

Do you remember the first time you stepped into a theatre?

My family didn't really go to the theatre when I was younger, so I decided to go by myself. I remember going to a matinee to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool when I was 16, before discovering other theatres that I could visit. I went to The Everyman and to The Playhouse, before becoming a member of the Playhouse Youth Theatre.

When you think about theatre and the performances that have happened on those stages, they become really romantic places. It feels like home, for me.

Do you still feel the magic when visiting theatres?

Theatres are only buildings, but they house the magic of what happens on stage. I love the romantic notion of them. I love the magic of sitting in an auditorium where something happens in front of you. I find it liberating to have this magic rectangle that you look into, that transports you into another world.

How does it feel seeing the audience’s reaction to what’s going on, on stage?

There is a thing in having a shared experience within an auditorium of 1,000 different people. When something live happens in front of you, it really is magical. There's nothing nicer than when something you've had in your head, end ups on stage, and it provokes a reaction from an audience. It is a great high when that happens and a validation of what you do.

Do you still get a buzz from theatre?

The joy of the theatre is in having a shared experience with other people - it's about the magic of an interaction between audience and performer. There is just something about the pressure of having to get all the different cogs working to that 'one moment' on stage. It’s a collaboration of many different departments, all working together to present something live, in front of people. It’s exhilarating.

How did you translate the essence of theatre to the screen?

When Chris (Scottish Ballet CEO/Artistic Director) initially spoke to me about creating a film, we began talking about excerpt shows but as we began to brainstorm, our ideas got bigger.

We started with the idea of a young boy going into a space; discovering productions that are stored away, and having the ability to bring them back to life. The boy is the catalyst for the narrative, and he allows us to see theatre through his eyes . He allows audiences to escape into the romance of theatre, and to show us what we're currently missing.

What costumes and designs can we look out for in The Secret Theatre?

Scottish Ballet has all the material needed to present many stories, but we chose to work with ballets that Chris and I had collaborated on together. With that, the young boy (played by Leo Tetteh) journeys through scenes from The Nutcracker and The Snow Queen.

With ballet, the visual decisions tell the story and so he allows us to rediscover characters such as the Circus people, the Snowflakes and the Wolves. All of these costumes and props are stored in boxes, but he allows us to breathe life back into them, before we get the opportunity to perform them once again.

How would you like audiences to react to The Secret Theatre?

I want them to miss theatre.

You have these beautiful and wonderful buildings sat there waiting for shows to come and bring them back to life again. I just hope that it reminds people what they're missing as theatre isn't just a little bit of entertainment that happens. It's a discipline, it's a way of life and it plays an important cultural role.

Telling stories is the very basic thing that humans do for each other. As creators, it's what we do. We look to bring people together to tell them a story, and I think that's culturally really important.

At Scottish Ballet, we believe our local theatres are essential, and right now they are fighting for their survival. If you are able to, please consider supporting our charitable theatre partners through this extremely challenging time:

The Secret Theatre will premiere on Monday 21 December at 6pm (GMT) and be available online until Thursday 24 December at 11.59pm. Tickets are free and must be booked in advance.