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Set model

Set model

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1982 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gunter, John, born 1938 - died 2016 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, paper, wire, metal, fabric, string, paint, modelling clay

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Gunter

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

John Gunter (1938-2016) trained at Central School of Art and Design under Ralph Koltai before working at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and the Bristol Old Vic. In 1965 he became resident designer at the Royal Court where his style ranged from the stark minimalism of Edward Bond’s Saved to social realism in Peter Gill’s landmark revivals of D H Lawrence’s coal-mining plays.

John Gunter's international career began in 1970 with a residency at Zurich’s Schauspielhaus. He returned to head up the Theatre Design Department at Central School in the 1970s, meanwhile making his mark at the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Nottingham Playhouse. His collaboration with director Richard Eyre at Nottingham led to a remarkable run of hits at the Royal National Theatre in the 1980s, starting with setting and costumes for The Beggar’s Opera in the Cottesloe and the sensational neon-lit Guys and Dolls in the Olivier. Gunter mastered the latter theatre for The Rivals directed by Peter Wood, with ingenious moveable houses mounted on trucks, and panoramic vistas of Bath. In Gogol’s The Government Inspector, audiences adored the surreal setting: its sea of bureaucratic paperwork and huge portrait of the Tsar stole the show every night.

Other major directors John Gunter worked with included Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn, most notably the latter’s Porgy and Bess at Glyndebourne in 1986, and Hamlet at the Old Vic in 2004 with Ben Whishaw in the title role. He won Best Designer award from SWET for Guys and Dolls(1982), and an Olivier for Best Designer with Wild Honey (1984).

On moving house in 2008 he kindly donated to the Museum six set models including this one - all of which he made himself. To mark the occasion he was interviewed by Geoffrey Marsh, Director of the V&A Theatre & Performance Department, in his studio before it was dismantled by the removers. A copy of the interview is viewable in the Theatre & Performance Department's archive.

Physical description

Set model of permanent setting suggesting a mid-19th-century workhouse or doss-house. Two scantily dressed women perch on sleeping boxes which form the back wall across the top of which a banner announces: THE BEGGAR'S OPERA / A MORAL TALE. A ladder gives access to the stage cluttered with three men and various props used to represent ale-house, prison, and the residences of Lockit and Peachum. Atmospheric lighting is created with footlight oil -lamps harking back to the 18th century, and Victorian gas lights which hang from above alongside clothes worn by the inmates of a poorhouse. Due to previous damage the gas fittings, various wooden fragments, and the front half of the model were detached by John Gunter before he presented the model to the Museum.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1982 (made)


Gunter, John, born 1938 - died 2016 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, paper, wire, metal, fabric, string, paint, modelling clay


Height: 27.8 cm, Depth: 14 cm, Width: 56 cm

Descriptive line

Set model by John Gunter for The Beggar's Opera by John Gay, Royal National Theatre Cottesloe, 1982


Entertainment & Leisure


Theatre and Performance Collection

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