Sabine Dargent works mostly in theatre, but also on film and exhibitions.
She has a long standing working relationship with director Mikel Murfi, designing set and sometimes costumes for his productions at the Abbey Theatre, Druid and the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. She has also worked regularly with directors Enda Walsh (for Druid), Jim Culleton of Fishamble and Conall Morrison.
She has also designed productions for Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Siren Productions, Kabosh, Lyric Theatre Belfast, Everyman Theatre, Second Age Theatre Company, Big Telly Theatre Company, Barnstorm Theatre Company, TEAM Theatre, Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, Galloglass Theatre Company and Rex Levitates (now Liz Roche Company).
For the last 5 years, she has designed for the Dublin St Patrick’s Festival Parade (200 costumes, props and floats). In France, she designed for TGV and was in-house design assistant to Serge Noyelle (Théâtre de Chatillon) and Antonio Diaz Florian (l’Epée de Bois).
- Nomination for Best Set Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2011 for "The Crucible" (Lyric Theatre)
- Best Set Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2006 for 'Hysteria' (b*spoke theatre company) and 'The Walworth Farce' (Druid)
- Best Set Design, Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards 2003 for "Ghosts" (Lyric Theatre)
In Spinning, the two main things Deidre mentioned were: an impressionist visual, and the notion of time being mixed. The text speaks about an event that had a huge effect on the present. I keep drawing ripples of water. And, pushed by the theatre spatial constraint, decided to work mainly on the floor. I chose very dark colors with variations of shines so the set could be lit very little, as if the story was coming from the depth of the subconscious, from the sea where the story ends. The set is the physical representation of a ripple, but it is also eaten by the sea underneath, like a ship at wreck…It is also lit from underneath, it also contained lot of levels to allow multitudes of places. Behind the set, barely visible, a gauze, that allow an apparition at the end, to close the circle of the story, explain the necessity of speaking to bring the past into full consciousness, to a closure.
Drawings and models
What struck me reading Sive is how specific and universal the story is. The text places two worlds in opposition: the world of the inside and of the outside. Conall needed the inside of the cottage to be extremely precise, as described by J.B. Keane, to allow the actors to feel and represent every micro gesture of the characters. But we also felt the need to represent the outside forces, which intrude with cataclysmic force into that impoverished, enclosed household. To express that outside world, i extended the white washed walls of the cottage up to a great height, the walls slowly morphing into rock, into clouds, into wilderness, trying to reach the sky – a visual encapsulation of the dark magnificence of tragedy, menacing and yet somehow liberating.
Drawings and set build
Jessica and Megan Kennedy’s idea for Dusk Ahead was to work with the specific moment of day turning into night, and that moment when one is not sure which one it is. It is the time ‘in between’, what we call in French “l’heure entre chien et loup” – the time between dog and wolf, when you are not sure if things are familiar, safe or wild and dangerous.
The idea was to create an atmospheric set. Working with strings has always interested me, both because of the simplicity of the material and the radical way a string can cut the space; so tiny and so powerful. I became inspired by an installation of Lygia Page. With its clever use of stretched ropes, the installation was made to look like rays of light.
In my set design, we use a huge quantity of golden strings in kilometres, each one carefully stretched. Lights were installed inside the boxes that contained them, so Sarah Jane Shiels, the lighting designer, could play with the effect of sometimes having the strings very present, and sometime invisible.
I also designed the costumes, which were of mixed periods, yet with a predominantly Victorian feel, and almost modern. The costumes were quite structured, going from white to tones of greys, to expose the fact that dusk erases colours and bring us to the night; to that place where fears are rising. To evoke a sense of animalistic fear/instinct, I also designed two costumes/masks which were worn several times by the dancers, giving the impression that they were appearing from the darkness.
When Fishamble asked, through the Irish Times, to write short stories about Ireland, they were submerged by the numbers of answers, and quality answers they were. Because timing, I had to design before their final choice of texts. Jim and me decided then to have an abstract design allowing movements and possibilities. The first thing was to have the spectators involved, because they wrote the plays, and if they didn’t they were the plays… So the set included the spectators, making them actors. Two routes crossing was the idea: the meeting of modern Ireland and ancient Ireland, of urban and country, of earth and sea, of tables and chairs, of inside and outside. Lights, sounds, and props were coming from the set: showing the stories being at the heart.
Drawings and models
Drawings and models
Model, drawings and research image
The Crucible was produced by the Lyric Theatre as the opening production of their new theatre. A text about the repressed sexual desire, religion and intolerance was a judicious choice for Northern Ireland. We wanted to showcase the theatre as well as give a world to the story, demonstrate how play and playhouse could be integrated into the fabric of the community.
The walls of the Lyric Theatre auditorium are covered by mahogany planks. I designed the walls of the set to be the same shape and texture, aiming to make the set – the world of the play – one with the Lyric itself. The scene changes operated at a practical and metaphorical level, like a huge transformation of the space and the mind. Both the back wall and the sides walls rotated: the back wall on its centre point, and the sides walls in each of fout different panels. A ceiling was also lowered down on the last scene, express both the dimensions of the condemned cell and the pressure of the tragedy. The lighting was like a Rembrandt painting, (dark, sculpted, but yet ..) soft and free on that constrained world.
One of the first things I designed for this play was the big décolleté back on Penelope’s blue dress. The way Enda wrote the play, I could see her, stuck in that amazing mediterranean house (inspired from the Malaparte Villa), almost oppressed by the suitors’ attention and money and beauty. But for all that, her body is tense, attentive only to the sea and the return of her Ulysses, her back turned to her suitors, to us. She is a focal point, she gives her name to the play but she is ignoring everybody.
As in other work of Enda’s, the setting is massively important. Here is a strong visual statement vis a vis the text, with those men underneath ‘swimming ridiculously’ in a empty pool. I designed the house red, strong against the sky and the sea. The blues of sky and sea like the subconscious making the house and pool feel more suspended on the edge of the cliff, about to fall.
Drawings and research images
After reading the beautiful text, Mikel and I spoke a lot about how to set the play with the same sensitivity with which Carmel had written the piece. We both wanted a set that would feel safe so that the spectator could be emotionally open. Mikel and I often speak about what seems essential in set-design: the relationship between actor and spectator. So the set was a single gesture, from the floor to the back wall, like a wave catching us up, white, pure, soft. The set was like the centre of a nest, everything was covered in felt material, bringing silence. And any furniture needed was hung, suspended in the wings, ready to be used, ready to enter that world. Costumes were hung in the same way. We showed clearly the mechanism of the scene changes once again in order to concentrate all the emotional intelligence of the audience on the essence of the play: love and humanity.
Mikel was interested in exploring Boucicault’s passion for theatrics and his own fascination for theatrical tricks, in order to offer to the National Theatre spectator a treat of a production. So we started speaking about using a lot of different levels, entrances, exits, and games of perspective. We knew the play would require a lot of movement, very quick scene changes, visual wittiness. I researched all the patterns of leaves and vegetation from County Wicklow with its huge variation of green tones, and painted them on floors, flats, cut outs, borders … like a little magic feast. The concept was that the set was a frame, a landscape of Wicklow Mountains, and that sometimes we zoomed in on the moving props, which were sometimes very large (cottage, tower), created by Matthew Guinnane. The actors were shapeshifting from characters into inanimate objects like doors or even animals. Lights, costumes, moving props were all unified in the same joyful world.
When I start to work on the design of Strandline, which tells the story of a weaver, it just happen that I meet a Portuguese artist, Sandra Gil, which was using threads as the main tool for her art. It seems like a happy coincidence, and with the help of Jim and Fishamble, I decide to collaborate and integrate her pieces in the scenography. Those pieces of art were bordering the space, closing and opening the space in the same time. They were both the representation of that character ‘s work and also a metaphor to the intriguing story, to the perpetual movement of the sea. The set itself was very vast, with spacious grey floor and huge concrete walls, lush but cold, the space was generous but aesthetically very controlled …like the main character.
Drawing and set build
Sebastian Barry’s new play was that succession of monologues between the two characters, that tragic impossibility of communication, and having them physically close made that poignant. The bed was right in the centre, the male character was in main focus but weak. I wanted his space to be contained in her space. Both spaces interdependent. Both spaces interlaced like in a dance.
Jim directed the actors in a delicate way, the actors used very little movements, so each of those took a huge importance. Really like a dance, and the words then had lot of places to be heard. United but separated. Physically, in the story they are not in the same place but mentally, they are joined. The space express that dichotomy.
The set is made of one material, metal. One surface is rusty, old, the other one is shiny, the old and the new. Behind the actors, there is split back wall, where the light can enters. Above them a metallic cloud is creating moving shadows. The metal was like the representation of that hard poor urban life, evoking the docks. All that setting was prepared for the end of the show where the water filled the basin where the bed seats and when the two characters touch each other a light shining on the moving water emits reflections all over the space, amplifying the deep love between the characters.