Snap by Nigel Gearing at New End Theatre, Hampstead
Notes on the original production by Roland Rees, 2011
Playwright Nigel Gearing back from Paris came to me with the play he had written about Eadweard Muybridge, the serial photographer, inventor of the Zoopraxiscope, and arguably the father of Motion Pictures. We put the play on in the New End Theatre, Hampstead, in 1981, in what was once an anatomy theatre, with its steeply raked auditorium. British designer Adrian Vaux, who works mainly in Israel, constructed an austere set that resembled a camera obscura – a black felted box with ever receding black surrounds. That very fine actor, Oliver Ford Davies played Muybridge with Darwinian precision. It is now the centenary of Muybridge’s death. His life story hinged around the bet that was taken: whether a horse in motion takes all four feet off the ground or not! The play is a neatly arranged quartet with Muybridge and his wife/model Flora, a male model and a mid- wife sitter, knitting in the studio. There was a bowler hatted musician playing songs of the period on a piano. It was the first case of 'Crime Passionel', when Muybridge shot his wife's lover—the male model ( who was actually thought to be the father of the baby Flora,) and got off his sentence in California, where Muybridge was making his fortune! We used stroboscopic lighting in the last scene so that the model couple on the chaise-longue appeared in the fast light to be actually coupling, with the naked mid-wife on the end of the sofa furiously knitting in the strobe lighting! A hint of the baby to come. There are many photographic images and references of the film world that was yet to come.