May 16th, 2019
by Josh Ferri
Tony and four-time Olivier Award-winning production designer Bunny Christie is a Tony Award nominee again this season for her incredible, mesmerizing work on the Broadway production of Ink, the Tony-nominated Best Play about Rupert Murdoch and Larry Lamb’s reinvention of the tabloid The Sun in 1969 London. Bunny made her Broadway debut and won a Tony Award for the scenic design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and will return to Broadway again next season with the Olivier-winning revival of Company.
Audiences at MTC’s Friedman Theatre are absolutely taken with Bunny Christie’s intricate design of office desks to create a massive structure (complete with tunnels!) that towers over the action. BroadwayBox recently caught up with Bunny to find out five secrets of her Tony-nominated Ink set.
Character-Driven Work Stations
On each desk, there's a work station for each character that the desk belongs to. It's exactly how the character wants it set up. They have all their individual things that they like to have—like particular pens or where the ashtray sit, or the clippings. Some of the actors were more particular about that than others. While they were in rehearsal, some of them had very specific questions about particular equipment, pens, or things that they wanted to have on their desks. Then once we got into the theatre, then we had articles that we had found that we put around on their desk. They've all got bits of notes or bits that they've cut out from newspapers and magazines that relate specifically to their job on the paper. So, the sports desk is all related to that, and there's a women's page, so everything she’s got is related to articles or things that she's thinking about writing in the newspaper. Then during the show, they are often writing little notes or memos to each other in character or taking a phone call from somebody, and they're writing their little notes of what's coming through on the phone call. Then they have that on their desk or they stick that up on the side of their desk so that it feels like it's home to them because each of those journalists spend such a lot of time at that desk.
Toilet UK vs Toilet US
Then there's the toilet on the set. It's funny because it seems like my signature thing is to have to a toilet on every set that I do. All the recent shows I've done have had toilets on them. A lot of the set came from the UK—so some of it is part of the original set—but for some reason the toilet didn't come over from the UK. So, the prop department in New York were looking for the toilet, and, of course, your sinks and your toilets are all lovely and much bigger and chunkier in the US than we have in the UK. I was photographing my toilet in my house in London, and measuring my toilet and sending them details of exactly what size and height. I was crouching in my toilet taking photographs of my toilet, and sending them over. There's also a toilet roll next to the toilet, and the toilet roll is like a little roll of newspaper.
Creating a Piece of Massive Machinery From Scratch
The desks themselves are all made from scratch. Although they look like they're original metal desks, they're actually all timber desks that were all built specifically for the show. They are all identical to each other. Then when I was building the desks, they said to me, ‘So do all the drawers work?’ Which would have added a huge cost. So, I nominated some of the drawers and some of the cupboards to work, and some are just pretend drawers.
Rupert [Goold, the director] and I talked a lot about how the set should feel like it's a piece of machinery. It's sort of oozing wet ink, and it's gritty, and it's got newsprint sort of running through it. It feels almost like a massive printing press, but we also felt the journalists were a bit like rats in the sewer, so they needed to be able to run through it and under it and on top of it, and scamper about all over it. I made lots of little routes for them to be able to use. They're all really great at being very agile on it.
Hot Off the Presses
We've got lots and lots of newspapers on the set. They're all reprinted replicas of real papers—because all the events and the characters in the play are real and really existed. There's an authenticity to the writing, so all the newspapers are reprinted of the actual newspapers from 1969. We just do loads and loads of printouts of those front pages and headlines.
The Crucial Chart
Then there's the sales chart, which is a crucial prop. Originally, when James Graham wrote the play, he had a sales chart that he wrote that was almost like a kind of pin board, with pieces of string that you can move up and down. That's how he wrote it, but we thought it was not a very visually punchy thing to show to the back of the auditorium how the sales figures are changing. It's really important to let people see how they were beating the opposition, and how far down the chart The Sun was at the start of that year. Then we went through so many different versions: is it a bar chart, or is it a pie chart, or is it piles of newspapers that we see piling up? That weirdly that was one of the hardest things. I've done numerous different versions of that sales chart, and now what we've ended up with looks like a really simple graphic illustration.
See Bunny Christie's Tony-nominated set live in 'Ink' at Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through July 7.