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Set model - Leslie Hurry set model
  • Leslie Hurry set model
    Hurry, Leslie, born 1909 - died 1978
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Leslie Hurry set model

  • Object:

    Set model

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1942 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hurry, Leslie, born 1909 - died 1978 (set designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gouache, card and wood

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the British Council

  • Museum number:

    S.307-1978

  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, Room 104, case 12, shelf TOP

Leslie Hurry (1909-1978) trained at the Royal Academy and during the 1930s became known as a surrealist painter. A one-man show in London in 1942 was seen by the theatre director, Michael Benthall, who recommended Hurry to the dancer and choreographer, Robert Helpmann, then planning a ballet based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. The success of his designs set Hurry on a second career as one of the most distinguished theatre designers of his generation. He designed operas, ballets and plays, notably Swan Lake for the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1943, a production which stayed in the repertoire for thirty years; Venice Preserv'd for Peter Brook (1953); the Ring Cycle at Covent Garden (1954), and Troilus and Cressida at Stratford for Peter Hall (1960), famous for being staged in a sand pit.

Helpmann's one-act ballet was inspired by Shakespeare's lines 'For in that sleep what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil'. The ballet presents the distorted memories of the dying Hamlet. Hurry was initially reluctant to take the commission but eventually agreed to make one design to express his own reaction to the play. This was exactly what Helpmann wanted and became the basis for the set.

Helpmann asked for a decadent palace and Hurry created a nightmare vision, loaded with symbols of death and decay. The figure of Revenge, literally two-faced, looms over the dancers; the architecture is itself symbolic: a column transforms into a hand clutching a dagger, the receding perspectives suggest the unknown, with the stage as a point of transition on a journey. The blood red sun is both an emblem of doom and of light breaking through Hamlet's mind at the point of death. The curling vegetation is decay.

Physical description

Model of the permanent setting for the ballet, Hamlet, Sadler's Wells Ballet at the New Theatre, London, 1942, with a painted backdrop and freestanding painted wing pieces to each side. On the left an open doorway with columns on each side, the column to left rising to become a hand holding a dagger, to the right a classical doorway surmounted by obelisks. On the backdrop a palace with staircases and columns, to left a two-faced figure holding a sword and to right a red sun within a ring of dull yellow rays and with fronds of dark green foliage across centre.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)

Date

1942 (made)

Artist/maker

Hurry, Leslie, born 1909 - died 1978 (set designer)

Materials and Techniques

Gouache, card and wood

Dimensions

Height: 52 cm, Width: 94 cm, Depth: 52 cm

Object history note

Robert Helpmann's ballet Hamlet was first performed by the Sadler's Wells (now Royal) Ballet at the New (now the Noel Coward) Theatre on 19 May 1942. The ballet used music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Descriptive line

Set model by Leslie Hurry for Robert Helpmann's ballet Hamlet, Sadler's Wells Ballet at the New Theatre, London, 1942.

Labels and date

Set model for Hamlet
1942

This was the first stage work of the painter Leslie Hurry, who had a distinguished career as a designer. The ballet presents the distorted memories of the dying Hamlet. Robert Helpmann asked for a decadent palace and Hurry created a nightmare vision. The figure of Revenge looms over the dancers. The red sun is an emblem of doom.

Ballet by Robert Helpmann, 1942, based on the play
by William Shakespeare, 1600-1
Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the New Theatre
(now Noël Coward Theatre), London
Gouache, card and wood

Designed by Leslie Hurry (1909-78)
Given by the British Council
Museum no. S.307-1978
[March 2009]

Materials

Gouache; Card; Wood

Techniques

Model-making; Painting

Categories

Entertainment & Leisure

Collection

Theatre and Performance Collection

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