Justin Nardella has a studio in the Rum Factory and works in theatre designing sets and costumes. He has worked with high profile names such as the artist Anish Kapoor, Australian theatre and screen designer Brian Thompson and interior designer Peter Reeve. His work has been showcased in theatres, events and on film across the globe including the Sydney Theatre Company, EMI Records, and The Old Vic. His favourite design to date was where he made the audience forget that they were in a theatre at all:
Tender Napalm was a LA Boite production in Australia. This Philip Ridley play is set in an ambiguous location, so the director David Berthold and I stripped the setback in order to allow the viewer’s imagination to flourish.’
With a raw-finish floating plywood platform, this disaster story unfolds in the minds of the audience. This kind of design works to empower the actors to create real scenarios, rather than overshadow them with dominating visuals.
Tender Napalm by Phillip Ridley. La Boite Theatre and Brisbane Festival. Directed by David Berthold
Justin started working in theatre from a young age. At 16 years old, he won the BMW Young Artist Award, winning money for his school and landing him the role of designer for the schools’ musical production: Jesus Christ Superstar. His first experience of designing sets came with a comfortable acceptance for happy accidents; a confidence that is rare in young artists:
I designed this panorama of Jerusalem for the backdrop, and ended up sending a low file resolution to the printers. I got the call saying that it was absurdly pixelated - I was excited. It looked like tiles - totally abstract from near and depicting a detailed scenic backdrop from the auditorium.’
Some big influences on Nardella’s work have naturally been the designers he has worked with. Whilst at university he worked for the high profile interior designer Peter Reeve as a drafter, and was then mentored by Reeve throughout his degree. Mentoring is something Justin is passionate about, and has spoken several times at London’s biggest careers event for drama: Theatre Craft. He speaks enthusiastically about doing what you love; to be creative and tell stories visually. His approach is much like that of a contemporary artist, creating an environment with set and costumes to ‘bring the imagination of the audience alive’.
Currently Justin is an associate designer on the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, designed by Brian Thompson. Last year he was an associate designer Tristan and Isolde at the English National Opera and on King Lear at The Old Vic. He has been the lead designer for the West End production and UK tour of The Hunting of the Snark , Le Grand Mort (starring comedian Julian Clary) currently playing at Trafalgar Studios and The Life at Southwark Playhouse. He works, as do many designers in theatre, on both set and costumes, creating the entire visuals within the show.
Le Grand Mort staring Julian Clary. Directed by Christopher Renshaw.
Many artists have branched out into theatre design, and it seems to be a natural progression. Picasso wrote plays such as Desire Caught by the Tail, and more recently Tracey Emin designed the set for Les Parents Terribles with not an unfamiliar likeness to her infamous piece Bed. One that Justin worked on was as associate set designer on Tristan and Isolde designed by Anish Kapoor.
Tristan and Isolde. ENO. Designed by Anish Kapoor. Directed by Daniel Kramer.
In Australia he worked as a production designer for a film by Jim Sharman called Andy X; a short film on the life and death of Andy Warhol. Nardella’s work has a strong connection with the contemporary art worldwhich is perhaps not such a surprise when you consider his choice of studio being open plan, and surrounded by artists.
Currently he is ‘at the cusp’ of his career, designing his own shows and being an associate for high profile names. His dream? He has a little red book of ideas, but is keen to take on the challenge of designing a rock concert. We’ll look forward to seeing it when he does!
Andy X Film Production Designer. Director Jim Sharman.