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National Theatre Blog

Model Boxes: Designing Absolute Hell

A photograph of the model box for Absolute Hell

All of the action in 'Absolute Hell' takes place in a fictional 1940s Soho Club called 'La Vie en Rose'. How do you create that inside a theatre?

Lizzie Clachan, the set designer on Absolute Hell, has shared these photographs of her model boxes with us. 

A model box is a scale model of the set. It allows designers to move things around and work out how the set will look before it is built.

Of course, the writer usually provides some description of the set in the script. Underneath some of the photographs we've included quotes from Rodney Ackland so you can see what he thought the set should look like.

One of the first things the writer describes is: 'a lift-shaft housing a rickety dumb-waiter connects the kitchen below with the club restaurant above'. You can see that featured prominently in this version of the set. You can also see the Labour party offices across the street, up a little set of stairs at the back.

This set is very similar to the one above, but the Labour Party offices have been removed and there are more windows. Ackland's script says: 'it is starting to rain. Everything looks bleak and shabby.' You can imagine that it must have been a little grim outside...

This model box is very sparse, which makes it strikingly different from the others. Ackland's script calls for lots of separate spaces, and at least two rooms within 'La Vie En Rose': 'There are two rooms on the ground floor, the Club Room, as it is known and, visible through an archway, the bar.'

Ackland also talks about 'a service hatch with a ledge on which drinks ordered by MEMBERS in the club room may be placed'. You can see that in the example above. This is quite close to where the service hatch is in the final set.

The service hatch and dumbwaiter aren't immediately obvious in this one, but you can see the restaurant above the bar. If you've seen the show you'll recognise the big window frame on the side here. The script says that 'the windows are slightly open at the bottom'.

This model box most resembles the set we have on stage. In the background you can see a poster. Ackland says: 'Across the street can be seen a bomb damaged Regency house, its curtainless windows stuck with Labour Party posters for a General Election; and an announcement, ‘Labour Committee Rooms’. At one of the windows a girl can be seen purposefully typing.'


... And here's what the finished set looks like



See more of Lizzie Clachan's work here.

Buy tickets for Absolute Hell here.