Inspiration: how Peter McKintosh designed the set for Michael Frayn's Noises Off

The set designer reveals how his scribbled ideas in notebooks become the 'brains' of a hit West End production

Peter McKintosh designed the set for the recent revival of the Michael Frayn farce Noises Off, a hit for the Old Vic that transferred to the West End in the spring. "The minute you start scribbling," he says, "the ideas start forming. It's a bit like being sick: you vomit out the things that are in your head. I do, anyway. And sometimes the act of putting things on paper can change your mind. You think you've had a bad idea and then you see the germ of something better."

He had been a designer on the same play many years earlier and knew the particular complications involved in Frayn's "mathematical" script. Characters are always coming in and out of doors. "So you have to 'crack' the set … work it like out an equation."

McKintosh's sketching soon gave way to the construction of models with his assistants: "It's much easier to play with these ideas three-dimensionally, messing around with cardboard." But the scribbling process continued, in some form or another, until first night. "It means that my notebooks come to read like the 'brain' of the show. I've kept them all over 20 years – it can be emotional looking back through them."


Tom Lamont

The GuardianTramp

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