Debbie Kruger
August 1992


Scene stealers

From The Wizard of Oz to Shadowlands, the fantasy element in drama has enticed Mark Thompson to follow a no-less-than-illustrious career for the past twelve years. Arguably Britain's most ingenious theatre designer, Thompson is in Sydney this month to design the Australian Opera's Hansel and Gretel.

An exuberant thirty-five year old, Thompson acknowledges the industry's view of his work as "theatrical, colourful, a bit over-the-top"— a cheerful understatement in light of the joyous revival of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in London's West End (which Australians will see here later this year).

His work on the Royal Shakespeare Company's The Comedy of Errors won him two Olivier Awards this year. He also won an Olivier Award in 1991 for the National Theatre's The Wind in the Willows, and in the intervening time designed productions as diverse as Alan Bennett's new play, The Madness of George III, Harold Pinter's Betrayal, and he managed the transfer of Shadowlands to Broadway. The common thread in such a variety of productions is the fairytale, mythical quality in each work, something that is always rooted in the relevant. "I love anachronism. It's my hobby-horse," he says.

In his Hansel and Gretel, Thompson's theme is psychological: elements of realism in the story's first domestic setting are taken through to the forest scenes and further enlarged in horrific proportions.

His work in opera has taken him across Europe and now to Australia, in a sidetrack move more than a deliberate manoeuvre. He dislikes the structure and discipline of the operatic form and the companies that produce it. "On the other hand, because it is set to music it is obviously in a fantastical world, so things aren't so preposterous to an audience," he says. Debbie Kruger

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