Magazine article The Spectator

Aladdin's Cave

Magazine article The Spectator

Aladdin's Cave

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 3

Prague Quadriennale

(Industrial Palace Prague, till 27 June)

Exploration of Space

(Manes Gallery, Prague, till 1 July)

Across the river Vltava in Prague stands a stunning art nouveau building, the Industrial Palace, known locally as Vystaviste. Recently its enormous floor space - a central hall with two even larger wings - has been filled to overflowing with the ninth Prague Quadriennale of Stage Design and Theatre Architecture, which, since its inception in 1967, has represented the stage design Olympics, with the Golden Triga (a magnificent model golden horsedrawn sleigh) as its top prize.

This year's British exhibit had been selected from an impressive exhibition, Time and Space, shown at the Royal College of Art in London in March, and 27 of our leading stage designers were chosen and their exhibits marshalled and arranged by Kate Burnett and Peter Ruthven Hall to comprise the British stand among 49 national exhibits competing for prizes. In addition to the national exhibits of stage and costume design, and lighting, there were also exhibitions of thematic `Homage to Scenography', plus exhibitions of theatre architecture, and by stage-design schools, in all of which British exhibits also featured.

Sadly, John Bury was prevented by ill health from coming to Prague, but Timothy O'Brien was on the international jury who selected the prize winners, and Ralph Koltai showed his own magnificent retrospective exhibition, at the spacious midtown Manes Gallery. All this, plus a memorable seminar given at the State Opera by Koltai, Ming Cho Lee, and the great 79-year-old Czech designer Josef Svoboda, whose magnificent and groundbreaking 1947 staging of Tosca had been recreated at the State Opera for the occasion, made it a perfect time for the theatre lover to be in Prague.

This was not Britain's year to win the Golden Triga, and there were few in Prague who thought that we would. There was certainly some notable work, including Marie Jeanne Lecca's costumes for Kat'a Kabanova in Munich - an arresting group of mannequins -- Elizabeth Ascroft's stimulating assembly for Lancaster's open air production of Alice in Wonderland, and Paul Brown's well-drawn work for King Arthur at the Chatelet in Paris and the Royal Opera in London. Also impressive were Claire Lyth's sets for Romeo and Juliet at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, Richard Hudson's strong models for Samson et Dalia at the New York Metropolitan and Emani at the Vienna State Opera, and finally two exciting designs for dance by promising young artists: Sarah Freeman's evocative and beautiful Mare for Paso a Passo at Queen Elizabeth Hall, with its haunting seascape backdrops, and Sophie Jump's inspired live action video and gorgeous 'floating' dress for Seven Sisters Group's Trainstations, which promised a great future for this young descendant of the Motley (Harris) sisters. …

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