Es Devlin creates bowl-shaped set as backdrop for virtual reality-themed play

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Ugly Lies the Bone set

Es Devlin creates bowl-shaped set as backdrop for virtual reality-themed play

British set designer Es Devlin has used a basin-shaped map as the canvas for video projections for a play at London's National Theatre, which follows an injured soldier undergoing virtual-reality therapy.

Ugly Lies the Bone set

The protagonist of Ugly Lies the Bone, which opened at the National Theatre on London's South Bank last week, is a soldier named Jess with debilitating burns from an IED in Afghanistan.

Now back home in a small town on Florida's Space Coast, she is undergoing virtual reality therapy, which uses simulated experience to aid with pain relief.

Ugly Lies the Bone set

As shown in these exclusive rehearsal photographs, Devlin has created a map of the small town of Titusville, Florida, which curves up around the stage.

Models of 2,000 buildings – applied by hand by the National Theatre Scenic workshop – protrude from the surface of the map.

The screen creates a rounded backdrop for moving images that simulate the world as if seen through a VR headset, including rolling snowy mountains. These images contrast the wireframes and night-time shots that are projected to indicate the reality of daily life.

Ugly Lies the Bone set

"The set is a bowl-shaped map of Titusville, Florida, a now dwindling small American town originally born out of the national optimism of the now defunct space shuttle programme at Cape Canaveral," Devlin told Dezeen.

"The action oscillates fast between the epic arctic vistas she experiences within her VR headset, and oppressive small domestic settings where she attempts to re-engage with what's left of her life."

Ugly Lies the Bone set

For the more mundane daily life scenes in the play, which was written by American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino, Devlin has also placed furniture on wheels. These roll into the basin to create Jess' family living room, along with a wall of picture frames.

A purple rectangular volume attached to four poles also extends from above to create the ceiling in this scene, and is lowered further to represent a rooftop in another.

Ugly Lies the Bone set

For the local store, now run by Jess' ex-boyfriend, a red shop counter fitted with popular magazines and sweets wheels diagonally across the stage.

After years of designing for the theatre, Devlin now also regularly creates sets for some of the world's biggest musical acts, including The Weekend's World Tour, as well as Kanye West, Lady Gaga and U2.

Ugly Lies the Bone set

Last month, the designer caused a stir with her set for singer Katy Perry's politically charged Grammy Awards performance, which featured a picket fence that grew into a wall – a reference to the barrier Trump intended to build between the US and Mexico.

She also designs catwalk show sets for the likes of Louis Vuitton and created a scent-infused mirror maze for Chanel in London.

Ugly Lies the Bone is on show at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre until 6 June 2017.


Project credits:

Writer: Lindsey Ferrentino
Director: Indhu Rubasingham
Set designer: Es Devlin
Music: Ben and Max Wringham
Costume designer: Johanna Coe
Video design: Luke Halls
Lighting design: Oliver Fenwick
Stage build: National Theatre and Weldfab

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Ugly Lies the Bone set
Ugly Lies the Bone set
Ugly Lies the Bone set
Ugly Lies the Bone set
Ugly Lies the Bone set