You're the designer of Doctor Who: Time Fracture - can you tell us a bit more about the show?
I've been working closely with director Tom Maller and writer Daniel Dingsdale to build the physical world of the show. What's amazing about the concept of time fracture is that you can go anywhere or do anything you want, because time is completely mushed. So there's a room where you can meet Shakespeare and see a copy of Romeo & Juliet on the table, then there's a modern security guard's office where he's eating fishfingers and custard - it's a bit of a designer's dream.
Were you a Doctor Who fan before you got the job?
I've always been a really big sci fi fan: I used to watch Star Trek and things like that with my dad when I was younger. And when I was studying it was the kind of show you'd look at and go, "Oh, it'd be awesome to design for". So it was a bit of a dream come true.
The BBC is a partner on the show, does that mean you got to snoop around the archives?
Yes! I got to go to Cardiff and go through all of their props stores. The BBC allowed us to pick the time periods that we wanted to concentrate on, which was really freeing; I was able to pick and choose my personal favourites get them into the storyline. They were really helpful whenever I needed to borrow props or to get more details just to make sure what I was making was really, really accurate.
Set design for Doctor Who: Time Fracture. Photo: Luke Dyson
What props were hardest to get right?
Obviously, there are really intricate props like David Tennant's hand in a jar which has to bubble and light up and everything. So that's complicated. But actually getting the food right has been the toughest part! We've had specialist prop makers craft things like the jelly babies. But we've had to brief the cleaners, because they threw away our bowl of fish fingers and custard! They thought it was just rubbish when it's actually a ridiculously expensive prop, so we had to order another one.
This is your first time working on an immersive show: what's it like creating a set design that people can actually touch and interact with?
I really had to think on my feet because every single corner of the set needs to be designed; it's not like theatre, where so much is hidden from view, or even like film or TV, because they generally know what angle they're going to be shooting from. So this is almost like designing a video game. Every single element needs to feel real. Rebecca Brower's model box for UNIT The completed set design in action. Photo: Luke Dyson
What's your top tip for people exploring the set?
What I always say to friends who I bring along with me is that if you see a door, that's not where you should go. They just lead to sets of stairs, which is really boring. I've created unconventional ways to get around, so you need to look a lot harder to find your way into secret rooms and other time periods.
Do you have to be a Doctor Who fan to enjoy the show?
What I love about this show is that it doesn't matter what level of involvement you want as an audience member. There are hardcore Whovian fans that come dressed up - the other day I saw two little eight year old girls dressed as Jodie Whittaker - but there are also people who just want an exciting piece of interactive theatre where they can talk to all the actors, or people who want to sit back and watch the action unfold.
What are your inspirations as a designer?
I really admire the level of detail and high quality sets that you get with Punchdrunk, so straight away when I was building my team I wanted to approach scenic artists who'd worked on shows like Drowned Man. But we also wanted to achieve the kind of clear narrative you get with a Secret Cinema show. Photo: Luke Dyson
How did lockdown shape the creative process?
We basically designed and put together the entire show on Zoom, it was crazy. But in a weird way, lockdown also meant we had more time to spend on it all, because we all had so much time - it was our only project, which really benefited the level of detail we could put in.
What do you think the future holds for immersive theatre?
Immersive theatre works well in a pandemic because you can really manage the social distancing side of it: for something like Time Fracture, you've got a huge amount of space to explore and you can control the number of audience members in each room. Plus, you're going on a journey through time and space. So actually, wearing a mask and keeping your distance from the beings you encounter completely goes with the storyline. But I'm hoping after COVID, this relatively new genre of theatre will kind of go crazy. Because I think there is now a world where people want to get more involved. They want to come and touch things, hold things, meet original characters. And there's a hunger for that. So I'm hoping that it's the start of something quite special.
Doctor Who: Time Fracture is on until 13th March 2022 - more info and tickets HERE