The Design in Detail: Amanda Stoodley discusses the To Kill a Mockingbird set and costume

The Design in Detail: Amanda Stoodley discusses the To Kill a Mockingbird set and costume

To create Maycomb here at the Octagon is not without its challenges, especially when the auditorium is in-the-round. We spoke to award-winning designer Amanda Stoodley, who has captured Scout Finch's world with a beautiful set and carefully crafted costumes.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the most difficult design I've done at the Octagon, for two reasons. Firstly, it is such an important and brilliant story that everyone knows about, and I felt quite overwhelmed by the responsibility of creating something that would convey it truthfully and right. That has happened before with big, well-known plays, but in the end, you just need to forget all its history and acclaim and get on with the job, approaching it with a fresh mind, as though it is a new play.

Secondly, the configuration of the theatre is decided quite far in advance for each production; for To Kill a Mockingbird, it is in-the-round. This is a perfect way to tell a story like To Kill a Mockingbird as it enables the audience to be encircled in the world of the play, but it is a space in which it is really hard to provide the essentials -i.e. five dwellings, a tree and a court room - without any walls or sight-line issues. 

Both Elizabeth and I were drawn to the red earth of Alabama and we decided early on that we had to create a red sandy soil. The play is about so many things, but one of the most significant is standing in someone else's shoes and seeing the world from their point of view, in an attempt to understand. The sand meant that we could set the space for the audience with two sets of footprints, starting in different places, standing together and leaving in the same direction; then as the play progresses, the floor fills with the footprints of all the characters, as well as those of the audience as they leave the theatre.

Over the weeks and months I spent reading, researching and exploring possibilities for the set design, I came to realise that the important part of each home was the porch - that was where characters came to view their town and speak with each other. Further reading showed that the porches of Alabama have always been where families and neighbours gather to talk and share stories, so it felt right to highlight them here. Another of the main themes in To Kill a Mockingbird that I wanted to address is segregation, so the porches/docks were also little pens that separated people from each other.

When I modelled up the porches and placed them in the theatre model, they also felt like a group of court room docks, where one would stand up and be counted, and judged. I played around with the shapes in the space and found that they could actually work for the court room itself - it would involve a potentially tricky transition, but with clever, creative direction from Elizabeth and the cast, it could be a really interesting transformation.

The court needed a different foundation, something to sit on top of the soil. There were many details in the novel that had struck chords, and one was the description of Atticus's office - it contained very few things, one of which was his checker board and he was the best checker player in town. Furthermore, in his final speech, Atticus says "This case is as simple as black and white".

The tree follows the same rule as the houses - we see only its farthest, or nearest, point. The knothole was inspired by Andy Goldsworthy's art works with trees and branches, along with a nod to our Mockingbird's nest.

The costume design for Mockingbird was based on clothing from that time and place, and it also needed to work with the colours and finishes of the set. Every fabric, colour, texture, material, garment, accessory is chosen specifically for that character and for their relationship with the other characters.

There are pairs and groups of characters that need to echo each other, so you can see colours and patterns within the scheme that allude to this. The most important pair to echo are Jean Louise and Scout, but there are other details in Atticus, Jem and Calpurnia, the Radley brothers, and the Mob - a group acting as one. I wanted to create a collection that worked and played together, like the people of Maycomb.

To Kill a Mockingbird plays until Sat 15 October.