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Friday, June 14, 2024

Designing for Misery

Lauchlin Johnston reveals some of the secrets in designing for the stage adaptation of the Stephen King novel

Thrillers are not often staged in Vancouver, although they do have an avid fan base. The Arts Club Theatre Company is about to give Vancouver audiences what they want, with the stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery to the stage.

Written by William Goldman, who was also responsible for the screenplay for the 1990 film adaptation which saw Kathy Bates take home the Oscar for best actress, Misery is the story of successful romance novelist, Paul Sheldon, who is rescued from a car crash by his “number one fan”.

While Annie nurses him back to health in her secluded mountain home, Paul soon realizes that he is not her guest, but her captive. Angered that Paul has killed off her favourite character in his most recent novel, Annie forces Paul to resurrect her in a new book. Paul soon finds himself not only writing for his freedom, but for his life as well.

Having just concluded a British Columbia tour, Misery arrives in Vancouver at the Arts Club’s Granville Island stage in April.  In this Q&A we chat with set designer Lauchlin Johnston for a behind-the-scenes look at designing for the stage.

This interview has been edited.

What was your inspiration for the set design?

The play unfolds from Paul’s perspective as he drifts in and out of consciousness while being medicated. Rather than show everything all at once, we aimed to create a hallucinatory dreamscape where the geography of the room, the arrangement of the furniture, even the set dressing details are never what they seem. Director Rachel Ditor was inspired by the doors in a curiosity cabinet and we looked at wallpaper and millwork in creepy old farmhouses.

What was one of the biggest challenges in creating the set?

A large amount of the action takes place in the guest bedroom of Annie’s house, but there are a few key moments when we travel to other locations within the house or just outside. Previous productions have solved this using a revolving set that can turn to reveal new locations, however it would have been impossible to set-up and take down a full revolving set at each theatre we toured to. So, we decided to abstract the set and strip it down to key elements which can appear and disappear as Paul becomes aware of them. This helped us paint a nightmare where nothing is safe or predictable.

What part of the set are most proud of, that audiences might not fully appreciate or notice?

I’m extremely proud of the fluidity of the set movements. Everything is manually operated so this fluidity is thanks to the precision work put in by our unseen running crew. They are simultaneously running a marathon and navigating an intricate puzzle backstage. I really appreciate their dedication to making it look so effortless onstage.

Since this show was on tour first, will you make any modifications to it as it arrives on the Granville Island Stage?

The set was designed to fit on the Granville Island Stage, so in a way it is coming home to where it was always meant to be. If you saw the set on tour it will probably look nearly the same from the front, but all the improvements are in the action of our many mechanical pieces. This improved functionality is going to allow us to create some new transitions, storytelling moments and maybe even a few new scares.

Misery opens on the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Vancouver) on April 5 and runs through May 5. Visit for tickets and information.

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