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Naomi Wilkinson obituary

Naomi Wilkinson – Theatre designer

Born, August 16th 1963; died November 18th 2013

Naomi Wilkinson, who has been found dead at her home in Islington, 
North London, was a singular stage designer with a vision and flair 
that was a natural fit for large-scale shows, but which could also be 
applied to smaller studio pieces. In the former, there were few bigger 
than Dominic Hill's epic production of Peer Gynt, which began its life 
at Dundee Rep during Hill's tenure there as co-artistic director. In 
the latter, a box that was part kennel, part museum exhibit was enough 
to bring atmosphere to an already chilling play such as Hattie Naylor's 
play about a young boy living wild on the streets of Moscow, Ivan and 
the Dogs, which toured to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

Gifted with a strong visual aesthetic from an early age, Wilkinson 
initially studied fine art in Bristol before being increasingly drawn 
to stage design, going on to study it on the Motley Theatre Design 
course. It was while she was at Motley that Wilkinson met artist 
Charles Mason, who was studying at Slade. The pair fell in love, were 
married in 1991, and for twenty-five years  were inseparable. 
Charles and Naomi's love story was etched with tragedy  when Mason took 
his own life earlier this year.

In the years inbetween, Wilkinson developed a reputation as a designer 
of integrity and vision across theatre, dance and opera. She worked in 
experimental spaces including Battersea Arts Centre, and designed the 
likes of Happy Birthday, Mr Deka D, which saw another one of her tilted 
floors tour to the Traverse. She worked with The Gate and Soho Theatre, 
and, with Told by An Idiot, had actors slide out of walls and dangle 
 from chairs in I'm A Fool To Want You. Dreamthinkspeak's production of 
Don't Look Back, performed in General Register House in Edinburgh where 
her designs were crucial, won the company a Total Theatre Award.

In dance, Wilkinson worked with Lloyd Newson's DV8 Company, Bern Ballet 
and Scottish Dance Theatre. Her working relationship with Dominic Hill 
began on his Dundee Rep production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, where 
her expansively dark and elementally-inspired tilted-floored set 
captured the play's full imaginative potential. It duly won her the 
first of two Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland's Best Design 
awards. The second award would come with Peer Gynt, in which Wilkinson 
utilised every inch of Dundee Rep's stage to present a gloriously messy 
vision of a version of Ibsen's epic that looked and felt utterly 
contemporary.

Wilkinson designed all three plays in the National Theatre of 
Scotland's Traverse Debuts season, including Cockroach, written by Sam 
Holcroft and directed by Vicky Featherstone. Wilkinson designed 
Dundee's production of Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children, 
directed by Gerry Mulgrew, who had played the older incarnation of Peer 
Gynt. Wilkinson designed Hill's Edinburgh International Festival 
production of Rona Munro's play, The Last Witch, and, most recently, 
Hill's Christmas show at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Sleeping 
Beauty.

Wilkinson developed a body of work at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, 
including a nomination for Best Set Design for Alice in Funderland. In 
2011, Wilkinson's work was selected to represent the UK at the Prague 
Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, which was later seen at 
the V&A Museum in London.

Despite all this acclaim, and while regarded as a brilliant talent by 
her peers, Wilkinson remained modest, never seeking out praise, but 
preferring to work quietly and diligently to create what was inevitably 
a vital component of whatever production she was working on. Wilkinson 
was known too for a dry wit, which she applied to her darkly cartoonish 
designs for Sleeping Beauty.

“As a designer,” Hill recalls, “she had a sensibility that I always 
felt was poetic, never prosaic, influenced by sculpture, photography, 
contemporary art and dance, often looking to Europe for influences and 
inspiration. I used to love going to her studio, it was sparse, and 
white and beautiful, often with a piece of sculpture in the corner that 
had been made by her husband, Charles. She was absolutely her own 
person. She would only work on projects that she wanted to, or which 
inspired her. She was quiet, intelligent and funny. A true artist.”

Wilkinson is survived by her brothers, Anthony and Patrick.

The Herald, December 11th 2013

ends

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