When it comes to a Fugard Theatre musical, you know that a blue print production won’t be on the cards. They’re creative team definitely knows how to add personal flair to any musical they present. With set design being a key component thereof, Kinky Boots designer, Paul Wills (the designer behind the Shakespeare in Love, King Kong, and A Human Being Died That Night sets) popped over from the West End to give his unique inspiration to the South African premiere of this hit musical.
Wills shares that this fresh-look design understanding is reflected in the Kinky Boots directing approach of Matthew Wild. From the start he was excited to hear that Wild was to be the director: Even though Kinky Boots is the first time Wills has worked with Wild on a theatre production, there was already a great creative relationship in place concept-wise.
From the beginning of the project, Wild had a clear vision that he did not want a heavy scenic approach to the show. Wills was completely in agreement, explaining that a scenic-lite set takes nothing away from production value. The Fugard's staging, as is the case with the Broadway or West End versions of the show, works beautifully in its own right.
The set draws strongly from aesthetic feel and appeal. Wills was keenly aware of the functional and practical requirements that design of this nature and scale calls for. Such an awareness is very important when it comes to The Fugard’s uniquely shaped theatre space. For inspiration, Wills drew strongly from the Fugard’s historical District Six influence and setting. As it was previously the family run Sacks Futeran & Co textile warehouse turned theatre (with the renovated Congregational Church Hall as its entrance) it all fitted perfectly with the Kinky Boots Price & Son factory context.
Both Wild and Wills were in agreement that the history and factory origins of the building should be fully embraced. In doing so, Wills ‘really used the building as a basis for the design, utilising the optics of the building, specifically the brick wall and again the height’. For Wills, the beautiful space always presents itself as a canvas just ready to be painted.
While taking from the history and style of the Fugard Theatre itself, Wills was also very aware of the fact that the design needed to go with the timeless feel Wild worked towards with his direction of Kinky Boots:
‘Matthew's got such fresh vision. He’s really keen on making it feel contemporary and not where it was set, which I think is the 90s. He wants to give it a feel that’s a bit more relevant, especially with the drag queens we see so much of nowadays.’
With that design standard in mind, Wills started creating a playground that celebrates the modern day awakening and acceptance of the art form of drag as a form of theatre:
'Also for an audience that’s so use to it with RuPaul’s Drag Race, the question now is how you build on that and make them feel excited about what they’re going to see in Kinky Boots. Birrie [Le Roux] has been brilliant on costume design —she’s come up with some great ideas.’
This understanding that numerous elements come together to create the complete design feel of Kinky Boots, is the design equivalent and reflection of the fact that the theme of the musical itself speaks a lot to the idea of connections (acceptance, comradery, friendship, family dynamics).
Narrative as design inspiration is not to be underestimated; its key to the creation of a cohesive product. When designing a set, Wills draws greatly from the story at the centre of it all too:
‘On all of them [Shakespeare in Love, King Kong, A Human Being Died That Night, and now Kinky Boots] you go back to the studying the script and just getting into the text to try and get a sense of how busy the show is. I felt that there was lots of references, lots of people populating the factory… That’s how we really made that world exist and knew that levels and secret entrances were useful. Also, one of the main stars of the show are the boots and what Birrie’s done. So in a way, we’ve taken a step back [with the set design] and allowed the costume world to be the main star of the show and of this world.’
You can experience the story and design connections of the acclaimed Fugard Theatre staging of Kinky Boots until 2 February 2019, with tickets available online at www.thefugard.com.