Adam Young and Finn Ross, founders of Olivier Award-winning visual storytelling outfit, FRAY Studio, have created video environments showcased in the current Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of The Tempest, at The Barbican in London.
FRAY has designed for critically acclaimed theatre productions including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. For The Tempest, FRAY designed, produced and mapped the show’s rich onstage video sets, taking inspiration from the pastoral work of British and Irish artists such as Turner, Francis Bacon, Romantic artist John Constable and David Hockney.
Hockney became a key figure in FRAY’s creative approach to the production. The 20th Century artist’s exploration of the fantastical within the natural in his large scale work, provided the studio’s creative springboard for The Tempest’s video environments.
Plays can be very literal, points out Ross: “We had to build first on that and then design out of it. An example where we could really explore this was the Masque scene. The world of The Tempest up until that point is a muted, moody place. The Masque goes into this mad, huge world of glorious colour and painted loveliness.”
For this, FRAY decided to move from the very Turner and Constable-esque world of the island into a vivid, Hockney-inspired, graphic, crazy world.
“During the scene, magic has to come alive and breathe in the space. It is a brilliant exercise in abstraction. A great show of nature in abundance,” he adds.
FRAY were not afraid of new technology and since the early days of media servers, the company has been involved with manufacturers, working with them to shape products that expand the boundaries of video design.
“Because we do not feel intimidated by new technology, we know how to apply it meaningfully,” Ross says. “It’s about understanding the moment you are creating content for, and crafting a response to it that fits,” says Young.
In The Tempest’s shipwreck scene FRAY used video to assist in the sense of chaos. They filmed water and created a stylised animation designed to fit and flow around The Tempest set, drawing in the audience to the stress and overwhelming feeling of the scene.
Working with RSC artistic director, Gregory Doran, and RSC production designerm Stephen Brimson Lewis, FRAY developed a modular workflow that would accommodate collaboration between the production’s different creative teams.
Young comments on the process: “The Tempest’s ‘stage picture’ is made up of multiple elements – the floor, ship’s ribs, the back cyclorama, table projection and the central moving vortex. Working in a modular way is key to the process of collaboration, it allows us to respond very quickly to creative developments. We can offer up different options for a scene by taking a mix-and-match approach. For The Tempest, it allowed us, alongside the RSC’s creative team, to try out ideas and give a real-time sense of what worked and what didn’t during technical rehearsals.”