There’s nothing more tedious than watching clunky set changes during a play, and at a recent production of Simon Stephen’s Port, we saw just how powerful seamless set design can be.

Port tells the story of 11 year old Rachel’s struggle to make a life for herself as she grows up in 90’s Stockport. Our first glimpse into Rachel and her 6 year old brother Billy’s turbulent life starts with a fraught scene in which the children and their mother are waiting in car outside their flat as their father has drunkenly locked them out for the night. Rachel suspects her mother plans to leave them as they argue in the car and proven right, Rachel and her brother must fend for themselves as best they can under the care of their errant father.

The play follows Rachel’s experiences as she grows up and prospers despite the challenges she faces along the way. Port is a life-affirming, if not slightly bleak portrayal of life growing up in the shadows of Manchester. As much as we were gripped by the storyline and the fantastic acting, one of the most impressive elements of the play was the clean scene changes and the flexibility of the stage in achieving different sets quickly and efficiently.

During the first scene in which a fitting old Ford Escort is used to show Rachel, Billy and their mother waiting outside the flats, the car slowly and meaningful slides back out of view as the scene closes using a mechanism to control the car as it reverses off the set in a neat arc. This type of scene change worked well and as the car backed off the stage and the lighting slowly faded, the act became not just a set change, but a prominent symbol that allowed the audience to make their own conclusions about the meaning.

Great stage design continued to make the set changes smooth throughout the play and the National Theatre stage revealed a trick up its sleeve early on in the production when a whole new set rose from beneath the front of the stage. This allowed the creation of a rich and authentic set (in this case a hospital cafe) that could simply disappear beneath the stage to leave the main stage clear for the next scene. Utilising a smaller ‘capsule’ set beneath the stage also allowed the creation of detail that can’t usually be achieved on a big stage. For example, in this case tiled floors and walls helped achieve that clinical hospital feel.

The fully adaptable stage meant that no matter what the scene or environment, the set could be altered accordingly. At one point in the play, a small square of the stage was actually lifted away to reveal a small flower bed! Further sections of the stage also rose to reveal set props underneath, ensuring that the focus was very much on the story and actors as opposed to clumsy set and prop changes.


We know how much good lighting and sound contributes to a play and we saw just how effective a little good lighting and sound could be during Port. In the scene depicted by the image above, the effective use of lighting and sound gives the illusion Rachel is standing outside of a pub with just the minimal use of effects. Creating the illusion of warm lighting behind a template of pub doors and using a low beat to represent muffled music really set an authentic scene.

Effective design, lighting and sound can make a play spectacular to watch and fantastic effects can be easily achieved with the right tools. If you’d like a stage design consultation or you’re looking to install a lighting or sound system to suit your budget and requirements, get in touch with our friendly team at PG Stage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.