Martin Morley

A Life in Theatre & Television Design

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Where possible I have given photo credits. For those I have over looked I hope I have not given offence. Most of the rehearsal photos are my own taken with a simple point and shoot camera.

Hwyl a Fflag and after: going freelance

Continued from previous column.

So in 1985, more by luck than planning, I turned my attention to television design. My first efforts were a series of Almanac programmes for Filmiau’r Nant. They were an excellent grounding in (to me) a new craft: half hour period drama documentaries, filmed in five days and prepared for about the same time. These led to more drama work, first ‘Deryn’, a gritty drama about small town dodgy characters again for Filmiau’r Nant and then ‘Minafon’ for Ffilmiau’r Eryri. They were long running contemporary series shot mainly on location, or in custom adapted empty buildings.

So how did I find TV design? Well obviously you start from the same base: a script and a director and ones responsibilities are the same: the visual content of the production. But there the similarities end. Theatre is seen as wide angle shot continuously, however much the lighting might focus on one area or another, but is viewed from multiple angles. One of the main design problems and in many ways the most exciting part is how to get from location A to location B without breaking the action. Also the designer in theatre is usually responsible for sets and costumes which is never the case in TV. The continuity problems are just to great to make that practical The most important difference is in theatre what you see is what you get, and there is the instant reaction of the audience, whereas in film and TV after shooting the real work of editing the work begins and the designer is not normally part of that crucial process.. In TV the eye is the camera, and do not believe any stories that it cannot lie. Also the nightmares tend to be different: I used to lie awake picturing ill fitting sets crashing together whereas in TV it was: do I know what the continuity dressing was for a set filmed x weeks ago but which needs to be picked today. I had to learn a different mind set: to realise that the only thing that mattered was what the camera saw, and what was off camera does not exist. The wisest words I have heard was from a very experienced film designer, who said ‘in film you do not design sets you design shots.’ It took a lot of getting used to but when it worked and there was a good crew it can be very satisfying.

Television work increased in variety and by the early to mid 90s encompassed ‘Jeux Sans Frontieres’ for the EBU / Ffilmiau’r Nant and the award winning film ‘Hedd Wyn’ for Pendefig, for which Jane Roberts and I received a BAFTA Cymru for Best Design.

Studio work followed with ‘Magdalen’, a youth musical produced by Filmiau’r Bont and a variety of other programmes.

My TV has always been for S4C productions and usually drama series. Apart from ‘Hedd Wyn’ there were other films., namely, ‘Gwynfyd’  and ‘Oed yr Addewid’, directed by Emlyn Williams and produced by Ffilmiau’r Nant, and ‘Mynydd Grug’ for Llun y Felin.

For Ffilmiau Eryri: the dramas ‘A55’, ‘Cerddwn Ymlaen’ and most recently ‘Tipyn o Stad’, and the studio sitcom ‘Naw Tan Naw’.

After the collapse of Theatr Cymru at the beginning of 1984, I had to decide whether to upsticks and seek pastures new or stay and be part of the new developments that were taking place in Wales: I chose the latter. It became clear very quickly that another mainstream company was not going to rise from the ashes of Theatr Cymru. The Arts Council embarked on a policy of project funding. Hwyl a Fflag was set up dedicated to producing work by new writers, but it was funded on a project by project basis. I designed a number of productions for them. I was involved in ‘Ffatri Serch’, and ‘Bedlam’ and ‘Wastad ar y Tu Fas’ by Sion Eirian. All were directed by Gruff Jones who had done much of the best work with Theatr Cymru. Wales being a tight community, many of the people involved in Hwyl a Fflag were ex – Theatr Cymru and it operated from the same production base. But the way it was structured – everyone on equal wages and everyone having a say in company policy was quite different. The other big change was being hired per production: up to that moment I had always been a staff designer. It was a different world and to begin with unnerving. It quickly came clear that I could not earn a living wage simply by being a theatre designer and that I would have to branch out. As it happened S4C had just come into being in 1982 and was mopping up a lot of the talent that had previously worked in theatre. And when I was asked to design a small production I felt I could not refuse, even though I had little idea then what it might entail.

Continued in the right hand column.