After completing the Motley Design Course at the English National Opera, Frank Conway assisted Tanya Moiseiwitsch on La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. He has since designed extensively for Irish theatre, opera and film, is a former Head of Design at the Abbey and Associate Designer at Druid Theatre.
His design for Shibari at the Peacock was selected by an international panel for exhibition at the prestigious quadrennial World Stage Design exhibition in Wales in 2013, and his design for Field Day’s Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) in Derry and later New York, was selected by the Society of British Theatre Designers to represent the UK at Prague Quadrennial 2015. This design was also exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2015.
He designed for the Royal Court, Old Vic and Donmar Warehouse Theatres in the UK, The Public and Signature Theatres Off Broadway in the US, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Canada. His designs have travelled to Europe, the US and Australia.
His production design for film includes the Oscar nominated The Field, Beckett on Film, Trojan Eddie and This is My Father. He has designed dramas for BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and collaborated with Philip King on projects including the Bafta-Award winning Beautiful Mistake.
Strongly committed to training, Frank spearheaded the MOU between the Abbey Theatre and Sligo Institute of Technology. He has taught students at the National College of Art and Design, Trinity College Dublin, The Lir, NUI Galway, Dublin Institute of Technology, Motley Design Course in London and New York University in the US.
Frank’s IMDB listing is available here.
- Twice winner of the Harvey’s Theatre Awards
“In 1991 Seamus Deane made perhaps the most coherent and succinct attempt to describe the Field Day plays when he wrote: ‘All the Field Day dramatists have had in common a preoccupation with freedom, won by coming through, not skirting around, historical experience.’”
Thomas Kilroy, Derry 2013
Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) was especially written by Sam Shepard for Field Day Theatre Company, and evolved partially over a series of collaborative workshops in Derry with Sam Shepard, Stephen Rea and a range of theatre and music practitioners. Sam spoke of his interest in the Oedipus story as the investigation of a crime scene; the murder by Oedipus of his father.
We created a white, pure space where examination was its purpose, where there was no place to hide, no shadows and no escape. A trail of blood on the floor and a heap of black dust were the only marks of a crime and its consequences. I looked at abattoirs, morgues and forensic laboratories, places where the body comes under scrutiny, and worked closely with John Comiskey to evolve a lighting that was florescent and shadowless in feel.
The venue was a converted hall three floors up in a former Catholic convent. We initially planned to adapt the existing space to our purposes, but the scheduling restrictions were insurmountable. We built an all-enveloping space, challenging on every level, even to physically install. The location of the play in Derry with its troubled history had powerful resonance. I subsequently redesigned the Field Day production for the Signature Theatre’s proscenium stage in New York.
Model and set details
Shibari is the Japanese word for ‘to tie.’ The play was commissioned by the Abbey Theatre to look at multiculturalism in Ireland, a development that emerged from the economic success of the ‘Celtic Tiger.’ It explores the bonds and connections that draw six different characters together and pull them apart. While exploring the play I drew the action page by page as it unfolded. This helps to define the physical space and how it needs to function.
I looked at images of Ireland from the 1940s and 50s, particularly the extraordinary photos taken by the American photographer Dorothea Lange in Clare in 1954. Compelling and humane, her images are of a poorer country, of a people and community struggling economically, a stark reminder of how changed we had become in a relatively short time. We may have been materially rich, but perhaps as the play suggests, poorer in qualities that sustained us through centuries of poverty and oppression. Lange’s images, although haunting, portray a spiritually rich, resilient community. I wanted this resonance to be a lens through which the audience viewed the contemporary Ireland Shibari examined. I used the language of theatre as a metaphor, turning what might have been a traditional set from the 1940s and 50s upside down.
The Sacred Heart lamp was a universal symbol of safety and refuge in almost every rural home in Ireland. This light, positioned centrally in the upturned world as though emanating from another time, was the inspiration for the drenched red filling the entire space.