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Naomi Wilkinson

Theatre designer

Theatre designer

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

Naomi Wilkinson, who has been found dead aged 50, 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 story of 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 she met artist Charles Mason, who was studying at Slade. The pair fell in love, were married in 1991, and for the next 25 years were inseparable. Charles and Naomi's love story was etched with tragedy, though, when Mason took his own life earlier this year.

In the years inbetween, she 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, she worked with Lloyd Newson's DV8 Company, Bern Ballet and Scottish Dance Theatre. Her working relationship with 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.

She 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.

She 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.

She designed Hill's Edinburgh International Festival production of Rona Munro's play The Last Witch and, most recently, his 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, her 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, she 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.

She 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, who was found dead at her home in Islington, north London, is survived by her brothers Anthony and Patrick.

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