Top of the Props: behind the design of The House They Grew Up In

Set designs often elicit admiration, but Max Jones’s design for The House They Grew Up In is drawing gasps from audiences from the moment they enter the Minerva.

Deborah Bruce’s play is about two reclusive siblings, Peppy and Daniel, whose South London house ‘is full of their life’s belongings, nothing has ever been thrown away’. Making that concept a reality have been Chichester’s Props Workshop Manager, Marise Rose and her team of prop makers, alongside Max Jones himself and Props Supervisor Sharon Foley.

Between them, they’ve emptied the CFT Props Store, as well as visiting charity shops and house sales for the staggering mountain of suitcases, boxes, bags, tins, kitchenware, clothing and bric-a-brac that fill the set.

But by no means everything came ready-made. The design called for hundreds of books and newspapers, but the weight of the set is also a consideration: the room has to “truck” backwards and forwards. So 20 metres of books were made using polystyrene covered with card and a variety of finishes; and 10 one-metre-high piles of newspapers, from real sheets of newspaper filled with foam.

Beneath these myriad layers is furniture: a sofa and several chairs. But it’s the attention to detail which makes the set so remarkable, some of which may only be visible to the actors on stage: dropped coins, ancient gas bills, vintage toys and records… The room is festooned with sprayed-on cobwebs and littered with manufactured mouse droppings. Kudos to audience members who manage to spot all eight dead mice.

Oh, and if you manage to find the missing back door key – please let Peppy know.

The House They Grew Up In runs until 5 August: book tickets here.

Daniel Ryan (as Daniel) and Samantha Spiro (Peppy) in Chichester Festival Theatre and Headlong's production of The House They Grew Up In. Credit: Photo by Johan Persson.
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