As we gear up to welcome the scandalous Mary MacLane to our stage, Designer Anna Cordingley takes us through her process of design.

Mine is a very early-heavy process; I love the research and developmental phase of a project. And The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself was marvelous in that we were afforded several periods of intense work peppered with lengthy gaps… a perfect situation for letting design ideas germinate. For having them, testing them, throwing out those which grow stale over time and improving those which remain.

Mary MacLane’s (MM) design was influenced by such varied sources. The eerie palate of Balthus; the uncanny compositions of Helmet Newton; the complex representations of self by Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura; the loneliness and space of Australian photographer Jane Burton. One key provocation was Francesca Woodman. Her awkward corners, her grittiness. Her sense of the domestic and the strange combined.


Tanya (Goldberg) and I felt we needed to anchor MM in a distinct period yet maintain the freedom to muck-up our convention when required. In the same manner, we wanted to create a world which could be domestic and familiar one minute yet spectacularly show-biz the next. Our costumes are anchored in the year 1902 – the date of Mary’s first publication – but the play traverses decades. Importantly, we wished to impart something of Miss Havisham in the world… a sadness like an opportunity missed.

Upon entering the space, the audience sees a fancy proscenium in a rich theatrical realm, one spruiked by the illustrious Tim Rogers in his role as The Man. This may be Mary’s real or imagined world – at times it may be both – and at times the glamour should recede into the aforementioned sadness and domesticity. Of course, domesticity is not always marred with sadness! But it is for Mary…

The musicians inhabit the performative and presentational part of the world. They are less real than the grime on the linoleum but absolutely real for Mary. They are choreographed around a fundamentally bare stage, facilitating storytelling and full of wonderful, gentle subtext.

When The Story of Mary MacLane By Herself was first presented, we were in the Malthouse’s end-on Beckett theatre with a capacity of close to 200 people. Griffin’s Stables, of course, is a smaller theatre still, and those wild angles make for a more confidential staging relationship. What this means for our set is something of an small overhaul: pivoting blocking from the square to the diagonal, downsizing the proscenium and curtain to match, losing Melbourne’s rake and gaining Sydney’s intimacy. I imagine hearing Tim, Mark, Andy and Boj resound in that tiny diamond will be a very special thing indeed.

Anna Cordingley was the 2012 winner of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship for Design in the performing arts (allowing her to study overseas to further her career) and winner of this year’s Green Room award for set/costume design for her body of work.

For more Mary MacLane info and to check out production snaps, click here.