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Creating The Wreckers

We take a look at the making of The Wreckers, our first production to follow the baseline principles of the Theatre Green Book for sustainability.

Festival 2022’s production of Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers is a landmark in more ways than one.

The first major, fully professional staging of the opera in our lifetime is also the first production at Glyndebourne to be designed and created following the baseline principles of the Theatre Green Book, which is bringing theatre-makers together with sustainability experts to set common standards for sustainable theatre. All four new productions in Festival 2022 will apply the guidelines, with more material reused from stores, and plans for the disposal or reuse of every component agreed in advance with creative teams. 

Glyndebourne staff joined local volunteers at local beach cleans to salvage flotsam and jetsam that will be used as set dressing in The Wreckers. Photographer Sam Stephenson

Dancers Rosie Bell, Lucy Burns, Tash Chu and Sirena Tocco in The Wreckers. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

The Wreckers tells the story of an impoverished and isolated coastal community who survive by salvaging goods and materials that wash up on their beach. To create the world of The Wreckers, the production team took to local beaches in Sussex to salvage items for set dressing during a series of beach cleans undertaken in partnership with Plastic Free Seaford, under the umbrella of the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage​. Items from this beach clean, and separate beach cleans by Plastic Free Seaford have been used throughout the production.

The Wreckers. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

The set floor under construction,  it is made from recycled cargo pallets.

The show floor is made of recycled cargo pallets from the local Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project, set up in 1998 as the first scheme of its kind in the country and committed to finding a way to reuse waste timber. The wood will be recycled back to the company, once the show reaches the end of its life. 

The masks worn in The Wreckers incorporate many recycled elements.
Photos: Graham Carlow 

The Wreckers is also the first production at Glyndebourne to feature costumes that in part use fabrics dyed using natural dyes made from plants grown in the opera house’s famous gardens. During 2021, colleagues from the costume department and the garden team collaborated on the development of a new area of the gardens dedicated to growing plants that can be used to create natural dyes for fabric. Over time, this will help the costume department to reduce its use of synthetic dyes.

Naturally dyed costumes for The Wreckers. Photo: Jenny Mercer

Thurza (Karis Tucker) with members of the Glyndebourne chorus. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

Dye room supervisor Jenny Mercer spearheaded the dye garden project. She tells us what inspired her to propose the idea and what plants have been planted so far.

‘The inspiration for creating a dye garden at Glyndebourne came from a course I went on about natural dyeing at a biodynamic farm, where they talked a lot about the cycle of nature. I came back to Glyndebourne and asked the head gardener if we could grow plants here to use in the dye department, thinking that perhaps I could take a few plants from the main garden, but he insisted that we do it properly and connected me with Andrea Benson from the Glyndebourne gardens team, who has experience in creating and managing a dye garden.

Andrea has planted a wide variety of plants – woad and Japanese indigo to make a blue colour, madder for red, and plants like weld to provide a range of yellow shades. We need to grow quite large amounts to make sure that we have enough of the plant material to make a dye and, in some cases, there is only a short window of time to use the flowers or roots of leaves, so we’re looking at drying some so that we can keep a store for use throughout the year.’

Watch the video below to explore the Glyndebourne dye garden with Jenny and Andrea.

Our garden adviser John Hoyland recently spoke to Country Life Magazine about the dye garden – ‘When I watch the performance, I will keep a keen eye out for the costumes, happy in the knowledge that the colours in the gardens will have been magically transferred onto the stage’. Read the full article here.

Here’s a selection of photos showing the making of the costumes and props for The Wreckers.

Photographer: Graham Carlow

The Wreckers is on stage until 24 June 2022, book now. You can also watch on demand on Glyndebourne Encore from august, find out more.

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