Jon Bausor explores the history of gangs in London and how they've influenced the design for Imogen.
I live in the East End of London not far from the site of the original Globe Theatre, hemmed in by urban brutalist concrete that shadows the legal and non-legal activity of various gangs and tribes.
Gangs aren’t a new phenomenon, and have existed in England since the Elizabethan era when groups like the Damned Crew led by the grand sounding Sir Edmund Baynham. More recently London’s East End has seen Teddy Boys and Punks in 1950s and 60s and nowadays the uniform of youth culture has moved to more sportswear defined look that favors the colour black for its ability to disappear and conceal.
Still resolutely ‘unhugged’, the hoodie has become the modern Elizabethan cloak, along with the baseball cap providing instant disguise and anonymity. Tracksuits and trainers have become uniform, allowing the wearer to blend in and be unnoticed, whilst moving quickly if needed. Branding and decoration is deliberately minimal to avoid identification, but at the same time is deliberate and considered.
The world we’ve created in Imogen uses these modern tribal references, and the visual traits of identification that different gangs take, the most obvious being the Britons in black and the Romans in white. Visual differences between characters are subtle, in this deliberately minimal palette.
The stage is defined by thin fluorescent lighting, concrete and frosted butchers curtains. These elements were inspired by a number of things: Firstly by the illegal marijuana growing operations that exist in residential London, where plants growing under 24 hour light are concealed behind the doors of residential and commercial buildings, only detectable by thermal imaging equipment. Drugs are a massive part of the play particularly in the Queen’s own abuse, and their deliberate mis-administration by Cornelius is key to our story. Secondly is the butchery that splatters the play, and I’ve looked at abbatoirs and images of hanging meat that are as common on the streets of Brick Lane, Smithfields and Borough markets as they were in Elizabethan London.
Whilst staying mostly grounded on the stage, our arsenal of kit allows us to occasionally change the perspective of the viewer, borrowing from the filmic language of the Matrix, or Inception, and taking the performers into the air as though we have revolved the box in which we view them. We can all be flies on the wall, or meat, to observe Iachimo’s evil actions.