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2 August 2017 •

The Unknown Island: Designer's Vision

We spoke to Rosie Elnile, designer of The Unknown Island directed by Ellen McDougall, to share her thoughts on a design vision for this production.


The Unknown Island is an adaptation of José Saramago's 'The Tale of The Unknown Island' – a story about stories. Our production looks at the old stories that we tell and asks what would happen if we imagined them afresh? 

In my work as a set and costume designer, I try to reimagine the world of theatre but also the world beyond those walls. I think my job is to ask – what if? So this production is a dream project. 

The process of designing The Unknown Island has involved lots of talking, lots of looking and lots of not knowing. Ellen and I have looked at images of classic heroes, performance art from the 1960s, Medieval paintings, posters from science fiction films, light installations, lots of ships and children's toys – all of which have, in some way, fed into this design. 

Like 'The Tale of The Unknown Island', our production is about story telling and because of this the design does not have to be a proxy for another time or place. In fact the only thing we have been sure of throughout this design process has been that the show takes place right now in the Gate Theatre in September 2017. If anything the design aims to make you, the audience, feel more in the room; more connected to the space. 

Designing The Unknown Island has asked me to question a lot of things that I think I know about design and I have tried to take nothing as a given, especially not the blackness or blankness of a black box theatre space.

What I hope we have created is a space for collaboration, connection and dreaming.


The Unknown Island runs from 11 September – 7 October 2017. Book your tickets here.
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The Unknown Island is an adaptation of José Saramago's 'The Tale of The Unknown Island' – a story about stories. Our production looks at the old stories that we tell and asks what would happen if we imagined them afresh? 

In my work as a set and costume designer, I try to reimagine the world of theatre but also the world beyond those walls. I think my job is to ask – what if? So this production is a dream project. 

The process of designing The Unknown Island has involved lots of talking, lots of looking and lots of not knowing. Ellen and I have looked at images of classic heroes, performance art from the 1960s, Medieval paintings, posters from science fiction films, light installations, lots of ships and children's toys – all of which have, in some way, fed into this design. 

Like 'The Tale of The Unknown Island', our production is about story telling and because of this the design does not have to be a proxy for another time or place. In fact the only thing we have been sure of throughout this design process has been that the show takes place right now in the Gate Theatre in September 2017. If anything the design aims to make you, the audience, feel more in the room; more connected to the space. 

Designing The Unknown Island has asked me to question a lot of things that I think I know about design and I have tried to take nothing as a given, especially not the blackness or blankness of a black box theatre space.

What I hope we have created is a space for collaboration, connection and dreaming.


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