Behind the scenes: Rocket Scenery

Emily Claire Drummond

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Nottingham’s very own scenery construction company, Rocket, is an organisation which the city should definitely be proud of. They make large contributions to many wonderful shows, not only here in Nottingham, but all over the country. And whether they’re creating sets for the Playhouse, or helping larger shows in the West End, their work is a crucial piece in helping us enjoy productions.

So when I was invited to visit Rocket’s workshop and get an idea of how it all works, I jumped at the chance! Eager to get a sense of the hard work and effort that is put into set development too, and get a better understanding of the talent involved, I also took this opportunity to speak with Assistant Director Nick Lister. Take a peek at our interview to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes…

How long have you been with the company “Rocket Scenery”?

Nick Lister: I’ve been with Rocket for about seven years now.

Can you tell me a little bit about what the company does?

Well, what we do is we make theatrical scenery for commercial plays. For example, we’ve created the set for the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a lot of touring shows too, such as Illegally Blonde. We’ve done quite a few for the Nottingham Playhouse; some of the most recent being this years’ pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, and Posh. But we do a lot of different shows all around the country, particularly in London. So in short, we draw up the set designs and make them come to life!

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And what does your role of Assistant Director entail?

I’m one of four directors of the company, and I’m also the production manager for the metal shop. The job involves pricing the shows, and also creating the drawings. We get given designs that have to be translated into working drawings, so I do a side of that, and then it goes onto the shop floor. I also help organise the materials and allocate jobs to people. Essentially I sort out “who’s doing what,” as well as working in the metal shop myself.

So, how would you describe an average day at Rocket Scenery?

It’s quite a relaxed company, I’d say. We all get along really well, so that makes it fun when the work is tough. In the morning we sit down to discuss and plan the day, then begin working at 8am. We read our emails to see if anything has changed, and go through the shows with the people in the offices, ordering the essential materials and organising the workshop. Then we just crack on with the set-making.

What shows are you working on at the minute?

We’re currently working on American Buffalo. It’s showing at Wyndham’s theatre in London from April to June, so we’re still working on the scenery. The show is about a heist to retrieve a rare coin that was sold for next to nothing, but it is actually worth millions, and the design is really unique for this one. It’s set in a ‘thrift store’ type scene, so we have lots of old bits and pieces, and there’s going to be bikes and stuff hanging from the ceiling – it’s all a bit crazy.

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That sounds interesting! You create some pretty big sets; how many people are involved in the process?

Well, in the metal shop department there’s generally a core of six of us, but we also tend to get freelancers in as we need them. The wood shop has about seven involved, and at the moment we have 12 painters. We’re actually expanding the company at the moment. We’ve just leased two new units and another paint shop, so we’re currently re-organising the whole workshop so that we will have individual departments. We also store scenery for producers, so the expansion will allow us more space for the metal shop and the wood shop. Hopefully this will make things easier for us, as over the last couple of years we’ve run out of space.

And what are some of the biggest shows you’ve done?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the West End was probably one of the biggest shows we’ve created set for, and that was for the Theatre Royal. However we didn’t solely work on that, three other companies were involved too, so we did some aspects, which was good fun.

Finally, what do you find most rewarding about your job?

I definitely enjoy solving problems. I find that satisfying. So if I can solve a problem, well, that’s rewarding for me. Also, it’s definitely exciting to see the final piece come together. It’s good to see something you’re proud of and something you’ve worked hard for come to life on stage. That’s definitely rewarding for all of us.

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Rocket Scenery is located on Bloomsgrove Industrial Estate, Nottingham.
The company can be contacted for enquiries by email:
info@rockescenery.co.uk or telephone: 0115 841 4145. Or, you can visit their website for more details.

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