Jocelyn Herbert and Tony Harrison

From the Jocelyn Herbert Archive at the National Theatre

April 2016, Chelsea Cookhouse, UAL, London


This exhibition, in collaboration with the National Theatre Archive,  highlights the seminal work of Jocelyn Herbert (1917-2003) who was among the most important and innovative theatre designers in the UK since the 1960s.

The exhibition focuses on the extensive relationship between Jocelyn Herbert and the theatre director and poet Tony Harrison (Leeds, 1937). This was a long-lasting collaboration, which started in the early 1980s and since then gave birth to six creative and innovative plays including among others The Oresteia (National Theatre, 1981), The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus (Delphi and National Theatre, 1988), Square Rounds (National Theatre, 1992) and the film Prometheus (1998).

Jocelyn Herbert and Tony Harrison showcases various materials from the Jocelyn Herbert Archive, including photographs, drawings, costumes, masks and written correspondence which were selected by the MA Curating and Collections students. With Jocelyn Herbert and Tony Harrison the students collaborated to join together what captured and inspired them in the study of this creative and productive relationship.

The duo found its strength and creativeness in a shared commitment to the text. Herbert believed that stage design should support the text without illustrating it but rather maintaining a “beautiful neutrality”, a term used by Harrison in his essay for Jocelyn Herbert – a Theatre Workbook.

Herbert would focus on enhancing Harrison’s text by keeping the design minimal and adding only the most necessary elements. For example, the simple design for Square Rounds is known as one of her most striking works. In being actively involved in the staging of each of the productions, Jocelyn was always dedicated to the realisation of their shared vision and, with her positive attitude and adventurous spirit, was able to adapt her work creatively to different conditions.

To see the publication of the exhibition, including the story behind each object and the research done by the curators click here.