Jeeves! The Scenery’s Moving Again!

6th February 2023 Progressive Players News
Jeeves! The Scenery’s Moving Again! Share This Entry:

Long-serving Progressive Players member Gordon Dunlop talks about his role as set designer for our January 2023 production.


It’s been a few years since I last designed a stage set (partly thanks to the Covid epidemic), so I was very happy when I was asked to come up with one for Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense.

Designing a set for a play is often fairly straightforward; three walls, a door or two, maybe a window or a fireplace. This sort of staging, usually representing a realistic room, is what’s called a “box set”. The first thing any set designer needs is an understanding of the play’s requirements, and that means having a proper read of the script. I soon realised that the requirements for Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense presented some interesting challenges. This was to be no standard box set!

What must be borne in mind from the outset is, quite simply, whether the script’s suggestions are physically possible for us to achieve on the stage of our theatre and within the time at our disposal. This particular script calls for the entire acting area to be revolved, powered (as far as the audience is concerned) by one of the characters pedalling a bicycle. Large theatres of West End standard do this sort of scene-changing all the time, using computer-controlled hydraulics. Whilst we have created some quite ambitious sets in the Little Theatre Gateshead over the years, using the sort of machinery taken for granted at venues like the Theatre Royal is something we can’t quite run to. Not yet, anyhow. Maybe one day!

With a few ideas in mind I then had a meeting with Louise, the play’s director. I explained my proposals, and she added a few of her own. Some of our ideas had to be abandoned for practical and/or financial reasons, and new ideas were added. I replaced the bicycle-powered revolving set with a trio of structures to be made out of three flats mounted in a triangle on castors. Once suitably painted, the triangles – we referred to them as “Toberolls” – would be swivelled by the actors to provide the four scene backdrops called for by the script. After several cups of coffee had been consumed, Louise and I agreed on an overall plan for how everything would fit together.

Then came the hard part; converting the ideas and sketches into reality. Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense opens with a comparatively bare set, consisting of little more than a couple of doors, walls and a window, together with a chair and a small table. A typical box set, in fact. During the play various items are added and removed, according to the needs of the plot. As some of these items were quite bulky, consideration also had to be given to offstage storage and access. Oh, and we had to make sure the actors could get on and off, as well!

Many hands make light work, and our team of set builders wasted no time in constructing all the necessary scenery. These included (as well as the three Toberolls) a section of wall which could be pivoted from one position on the stage to another, and a marble fireplace which could be folded out to form an antique shop display counter. There were various other bits and pieces made, such as a bath, the front of a vintage car, and a contraption known as the “Spodemobile”. This was basically a weighted platform on wheels, on which Dan (the actor playing the part of Seppings playing the part of Roderick Spode) was perched as part of one of the play’s running jokes.

Two images showing actors rearranging scenery. One is a fireplace being converted to an antique shop counter, the other is a triangle of flats being turned to show a bookcase.

While all the construction work was going on, the props team was busy assembling (and, in some cases, making) the assorted items used by the actors on stage, including a cow creamer and a dog on a lead. It’s a creative jigsaw puzzle, and extremely satisfying to see it all come together for the live show.