Interview: Set & Costume Designer Rose Revitt talks “A Passionate Woman”

May 2023

Kay Mellor’s “A Passionate Woman” opened last week at Leeds Playhouse, the same theatre in which it premiered back in 1993. This revival, directed by Tess Seddon, is dedicated in memory of Mellor who sadly passed away last year. Billed as “A story of family, love and Leeds, that challenges the notion of what it means to be the family matriarch”, the show is at Leeds Playhouse until the 10th June. Here, set and costume designer Rose Revitt answers some quickfire questions about the world of “A Passionate Woman”…

Can you tell us a bit about the lofty world (literally) you have created for Betty for our Courtyard stage?

I was really influenced by Kay [Mellor] and the rich environment she has created within her script. It’s made me think a lot about Betty herself. Her world is one that is very stagnant, but hidden underneath are a collection of surprises and memories that are waiting to come out from under the dust. I wanted to create a space that feels like it’s waking up at the same time as Betty’s passion is waking up.

Betty’s loft is full of secrets and memories – are you hoping it will strike a chord with audiences who might have their own stash of letters and diaries tucked away somewhere?

I think everybody has objects that hold a lot of meaning for them. I am a naturally sentimental person so I can really understand that feeling of encountering an object that feels like an old friend. A single item from your past can evoke a whole range of memories. I think that’s the experience that Betty is having, and I bet that’s probably something a lot of us can relate to. It’s the idea that one simple object to one person means something so deeply to someone else.

What element of your design are you most excited about seeing on stage?

The moment you welcome the actors into the world you have designed is always exciting because it transforms into a lived-in space. I’m looking forward to seeing what we unlock through rehearsals. The script is full of fun surprises. There are ambitious elements in the text and it’s been exciting to work with the creative and technical teams to get our heads round how we can bring them to life on stage.

You won the prestigious Linbury Prize for Stage Design in 2019 – what effect did that have on your career?

Realising my Linbury design on stage was a fantastic experience and I feel particularly grateful that I could do it here in Leeds. I was really supported as a designer by the Playhouse team. It’s given me confidence as an artist and made me think about the kind of designer I want to be and the designs I want to create.

5:   You designed the incredible set for Dr Korczak’s Example at the Playhouse in 2020. What are the challenges and benefits of designing for the new Bramall Rock Void and the larger Courtyard theatre?

Designing for the Bramall Rock Void was a unique experience. I was designing for a space that not many people had designed for so there was an element of discovery; how we can embrace the aesthetic of the space? I first saw it when it was being redeveloped as part of the wider Playhouse revamp. It was still a building site, and I think my design reflected that in some ways. There’s something in the walls and the space that ties in closely with the story of Dr Korczak’s Example. It ended up being more of a site-specific design rather than just a piece of scenery. The relationship between A Passionate Woman and the Courtyard Theatre is equally interesting because it has a history. The play was first staged here 30 years ago, so there’s already a tangible relationship between the story and the space.

6. As a costume designer, what has really stood out about this show?

Betty’s relationship with clothing is fascinating. As a costume designer, I am always thinking about the relationship a person – a character – has with their clothes. Often, this is below the surface but Betty’s relationship with clothing is quite a blatant one. As she goes through her old clothes they evoke memories about who she used to be in contrast to the person she has become. Clothes can hold a lot of emotions, about the person we are now and who we were when we first wore them.

“A Passionate Woman” is at Leeds Playhouse until June 10th 2023 – more information and tickets can be found here.

Interview courtesy of Rachel Marriner

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