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My Design journey


‘Silence’, a Tara Theatre production is a new play focused on communal storytelling – presenting a shared history inspired by the personal testimonies of people who lived through the last days of the British Raj. Commissioned to mark the 75th anniversary of partition, SILENCE is adapted from Kavita Puri’s acclaimed book Partition Voices: Untold British Stories and was originally co-produced with the Donmar Warehouse. 


Tara Theatre Blurb, Tara Website




Technical Specifications:

Queens Theatre,
Main Stage

Leicester Curve


Main Stage

My brief was a complex one and my first conversations would be the Director to discuss vision. Silence had been produced the year before and directed by Abdul Shayek, the Artistic Director of Tara Arts. It was in its second development period when sadly Abdul passed away and as Silence was his last show, became a project of passion and compassion. A new Director Iqbal Khan was appointed, and I was asked to design a new set and co-design the video with lighting designer Simeon Miller.

The R&D in December 2023 was our first introduction to text/ creative team. In the room we had two actors, Director, Lighting/co-video Designer, Choreographer and me, to read through the text and tried different ways to tell the stories through characters, unpicking what worked before and exploring visual and staging concepts. This was an important stage as it ensured the team were starting from a common place.

Alongside the visual design, I needed to consider touring the set to The Queens Theatre, The Leicester Curve, The Birmingham, Home. Though the spaces did not vary in scale, they did in audience perspective. Two main house venues were on a raised stage, so audiences were looking up, whilst the two studio venues were on a flat floor with the audience looking down. This made a difference to the intimacy of the space and what surfaces could be seen.

  Approach to brief 


Approach to script and writers

I work on various projects, from opera, dance to children shows. My connection with the material even at the earliest stage is often the connection I want the audience to have, that initial spark of recognition and understanding. Collaborators approach the material in different ways and finding a common language is vital in developing the work for the stage.

Here I was presented with a script, which both Tara and Iqbal wanted to honour. Little was changed during the R&D process and rehearsals, which is unusual for a production, though we were lucky enough to have writer and journalist Kavita Puri present in rehearsals whose interviews informed the stories.

Knowing the script was fixed helped significantly, especially in the short timescale. I like to use a paper version of the script that I can separate out and annotate – a little annoying when scripts change and page numbers move, but regardless the original always stays with me. Those initial responses are often the ones that lead to concept and a good reminder of instinctive choices made, especially as the room gets louder with costume, lighting, sound, actors, PM, SM, builders, producers and marketing.


Shadow work had been a strong element that we wanted to keep but I was keen to layer this with other techniques of capturing bodies on stage, using pre-recorded and live feed projection to heighten certain stories. A challenge was finding the journey as a series of vignettes. How do you take the audience on an emotional journey when you’re moving from one world to another? They were connected by a theme but how do we transition and lead the characters in and out without breaking the magic. The danger was that we present rather than immerse and finding a spatial and visual design to help frame the work was crucial.

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Relationship with Director: Iqbal Khan

My first deadline was a concept zoom meeting with the Tara Producers and Director, slightly expedited due to time restrictions and people’s availabilities. What helped in this case was the strong text and clear conversations with Iqbal about his approach to the material. He didn’t have a clear vision as yet but he could articulate how characters would interact with each other and his approach how to utilise ‘chorus’ on stage could help transitions between the stories. At this point it was my job to suggest a design that would key into this approach. I put together concept images that fed into each scene to get a sense of the worlds were creating.


Iqbal is a very visual Director so I created a photomontage of the set built around the concept of a series of frames. Frames kept coming up in the script, as photos and doorways, windows and postcards, so I designed a series of pivoting and static frames that could be configured in different ways, giving Iqbal a toolbox of options to play with.  These frames could cut up the playing space and create perspective and depth, even more so by building in the option of being projection screens by incorporating roller blinds, curtains and movable hung fabrics, all controlled by the actors on stage as part of the action.

Initial Concept images
Initial design and storyboard
White card model to build
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Communication through visual tools

Having Producers and Director onboard at initial concept stage is crucial before the design develops into models. I find physical models a helpful tool in exploring a design spatially and the easiest means of communicating ideas. I am not precious about my models and encourage moving things around and tearing pieces away to get to a place we’re all happy with. At this stage the lighting and co-video designer entered the conversation, and we worked our way through the script, brainstorming ideas around each story and character, looking at blocking with the model and opening up the conversations around the use of projection and live feeds.

I created a basic storyboard to show how the frames could contribute to the storytelling. At this stage it was just to give examples of the configurations, so I added figures to give an idea of scale, possible projection images and the layers of each set element.

The final model stage allows the creative team to see the final design to reflect on. The first day of rehearsals is the first time the actors see the visual world of the play and what they have to work with in rehearsals. Unfortunately, due to the structure of the design, we could not create a rehearsal set and so the model became a crucial tool to help block the show. Normally I would give it to the builders for reference, but it was needed in rehearsal room.

The PM held set budget and ASM props. I like to know my budget from the beginning. This is important for assessing scale and detail. It can involve stressful conversations if budgets aren’t properly managed. I was lucky to have PM Chloe Stally-Gibson who not only encouraged conversations around budget but did so in a calm and understanding manner making room for the creative process whilst balancing expectations. Chloe was part of every stage of design to make sure materials were affordable and we had sufficient planning for build.

Working with builders and scenic artists is a different process to creative design. Though concepts and models are important for builders to understand the context of the set, they ultimately require measurements, shapes, functionality and finish.

Being concise is important and often decisions need to be made in the workshop, so scheduling time for visits and conversations are key to having the set built correctly. Mood boards are helpful to a point, but scenic artists need precise references to ensure there’s no misinterpretation so often making a scaled drawing/painting/ model with accurate finishes is required.


In this case, the builder drew up my tech drawings and I sent photos of models with measurements on them. I don’t have AutoCAD skills, so my hand drawings need to be accurate. I count on the builder to problem solve which is why context becomes important. ‘I need a pivoting frame which houses shelves and an invisibly housed roller blind.’ I expect the builder to manipulate dimensions to make it work, draw it up for me to sign off on.

Relationship with lighting and co-video designer: Simeon Miller 

I have made a natural progression into video design and enjoy incorporating projection into set designs where appropriate. Video has the ability to heighten and make a small space/set epic in scale and incorporated well can add significantly to the onstage magic. My style is collage-like using photographs, film, and hand drawn elements in a mixture of one-stop animation and abstract layers to form subtext and texture. Rarely do I use video to create a mere backdrop or if I do it is stylized and becomes an architectural feature as part of the set. 

Collaborating with a lighting designer to create video is an exciting development in my practice, something I have wanted to do for a while, as light and video need a sensitive balance to co-exist.

Working with Simeon on the video design was fantastic as we have complimentary skillsets. Simeon enjoys tech - film and layered live feeds with pre-recorded projection, creating some magical effects on stage with live performers.

I worked on the projection content using one stop hand drawn animation, historical photographic archive, and background textures to lift, commentate and enhance the live storytelling.

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Relationship with costume

I am used to designing set and costume where even though it doubles my workload, I am able to create a holistic vision and make decisions on colour and shapes much quicker. Conversations with a costume designer is another step in the ‘selling’ process and often involves consideration for someone else’s vision. I have split set and costume before and have realised that the process needs to be tailored accordingly.


Contact time with actors is far less when working solely on set, as fittings and quick changes don’t need to be a consideration. The set is built and dressed and props become the only real shifting element as things are worked out on stage. I do miss the connection with the actors when I don’t design costumes.

In this case Tara were keen to use the same costumes from the previous iteration of the show, due to budgets and my tight availability and employed a fantastic wardrobe supervisor Male Arcucci, a key person in charge of costumes and fittings. She revived the costumes and added to the design with respect to the original designer as the production developed in rehearsals. It was a tricky time as taking away the collaborative process with the costume designer means colours become an issue. The last set design was predominantly creams and whites and my design is layers of blacks, so Male had to work hard in technical rehearsals under the lights to provide alternative colours.


This highlights the importance of communication between creatives but also how agency and responsibility is given to a practitioner. Male is a designer and wardrobe supervisor but due to budget she wasn’t given design responsibility which was a difficult position to be in when having to make decisions for someone else. This puts a lot of stress onto tech week and negotiating the needs of the overall vision whilst respecting the designer.

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Rehearsals - tech - performance

As I was unable to attend much of rehearsals, because of availability so I was sent videos of certain scenes, especially where projections were being used and relied on Stage Manager Emily Davies' rehearsal notes each evening and Florian Lim's props list which we updated regularly and I would send references for. The Stage Management team were excellent and helped mock up rehearsal props/staging.


Tech is stressful for all involved so preparation is key.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of communication, some of the decisions made between Production Manager and builder missed things. In isolation all the components were made really well, but when put together did not work entirely and had to be remade. I need to take some responsibility for not picking this up sooner, but the production manager should have flagged the problems and this could have been dealt with before technical rehearsals. This made tech very stressful and I ended up plugging a lot of the holes, such as sewing curtains and screens, scenic painting elements which had been left and covering up mistakes. All this on top of editing animations for the projection proved exhausting.

We opened the show on time and in good shape for three previews. Iqbal would send through notes of any changes and we locked everything down by Press night at Queens Theatre, Hornchurch. The Tour then moved to The Leicester Curve and The Birmingham Rep and is currently being shown at Home theatre in Manchester. As part of my design I ensured the set was tour able and would be able to get-in and get-out in the times available. The production manager liaised with the venue team to ensure a smooth tech. 

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“Tonight was my first night out alone since having my baby. I went to watch 'Silence', a play retelling the stories of the Pakistan-India partition. It proved to be an impactful and emotionally charged experience. The raw portrayal of the human cost of division resonated deeply, stirring my soul in ways I hadn't anticipated. Watching it alone, I reflected on my own family's history and the hidden stories of sacrifice and resilience that have been silently buried with my grandparents.


Tonight, those forgotten narratives were vividly brought to life on stage, serving as a poignant reminder of the enduring pain and loss caused by division. It made me think about how I want to raise my son, ensuring he understands a part of his heritage and the sacrifices his ancestors made. The play was a powerful testament to the importance of choosing inclusion over division, compelling us all to embrace unity, understanding, and the lessons of the past for the sake of the future.


So grateful ❤️🙏🏽”

Audience member, Birmingham Rep

The Impact

Overall I was really happy with the end product and proud of the team as it has been an emotional journey. The responses for the show has been incredible and heartwarming and high lights the importance of this kind of work - giving silent voices a platform to share - older people who have so much knowledge and experience to give to generations ahead of them. Personally I have had stories recounted after hearing I was working on this project from Aunties and Uncles who experienced the worse horrors imaginable... who knew? I certainly did not.

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