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Spotlight On Theatre + Film Designer Jonathon Oxlade

Creative People

Award-winning film and theatre designer Jonathon Oxlade is a quiet achiever. With a career spanning 15 years and countless awards and accolades behind him (including an ACCTA award for his very first feature film, in 2016) we’re not quite sure why he isn’t yet a household name?

When one of our photographers, Amelia, recently told us she was heading to Adelaide, we just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to stop by Jonathon’s apartment and learn a little more about him!

Jonathan was busy at work on sets and costumes for South Australia State Theatre Company‘s new performance After Dinner, which opens this Saturday, April 7th.

2nd April, 2018

Jonathon Oxlade sketches out basic shapes and notes for the set design of Astroman, a show playing later in the year at Melbourne Theatre Company. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

The illustrator/designer in his Adelaide city apartment. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

This Lion painting is by Jonathon, while the Stag artwotk is by Brisbane artist Chris Booth. ‘We used to share a warehouse together in Brisbane where we lived and worked with Adam Lester. Chris and Adam’s painting careers are really exciting to watch, I also have a few Adam Lesters in my home,’ tells Jonathon. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘Not only is that my comfy lounge, but also the place of many meetings and idea creation,’ he adds. ‘Welcoming people into this space to work is a pleasure; It’s great thinking about art when you are surrounded by it.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

A costume sketch for ‘After Dinner‘ character Paula, played by actor Ellen Steele. ‘Paula’s the ‘arty’ one in the group – she has a hood on her dress!’ tells Jonathon. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Jox’s mantle laden with beloved keepsakes and trinkets. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Some inspiration… of the literary kind. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘Sometimes using bits of old set models helps to create new forms and meanings. I always have stuff lying around for that reason,’ explains the designer. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Mantle featuring: Jonathon’s Golden ACCTA award (AFI) for Best Costume Design on a Feature Film for ‘Girl Asleep’; He-man (gifted by writer/actor friend Matthew Whittet, writer of ‘Girl Asleep’); puppet carved by Jonathon while studied traditional Czech woodcarving in Prague; and ‘The Boy Mechanic’ hardcovers from his Grandfather – ‘If I want to build a functioning boat or fort​, I know where to look,’ says Jonathon. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Where all the magic happens. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Lucy Feagins
Monday 2nd April 2018

Jonathon ‘Jox’ Oxlade is an award-winning theatre designer, responsible for the sets and costumes for countless Australian theatre productions over the past 15 years. Working for much-lauded theatre companies including Bell Shakespeare and Belvoir Theatre, Jonathan has a particular flair for creating nostalgic worlds, with sets and costumes that reignite fond memories of a sepia-tinged Australia of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

In recent years, Jonathan has expanded his skill set to tackle production design for films too – picking up an ACCTA award (formerly AFI) for Best Costume Design on his very first Feature Film, Girl Asleep. (This brilliantly designed local film has a sort of ‘Wes-Anderson-meets-The-Castle’ vibe – the trailer is well worth a look!)

Four years ago, Jonathan moved from Melbourne to Adelaide to take up a role as Resident Designer at Windmill Theatre, a dynamic theatre and film production company Jonathan has been collaborating with for more than 10 years.

‘It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,’ says Jonathon of his move to Adelaide. ‘I really love Adelaide, it’s a brilliant lively place, filled with excellent people, beautiful venues filled with world class food, minimal city intensity and good art.  I ride my bike everywhere, it’s like a small European city in that way, and then there are the hills… which are filled with wine and more food. Adelaide spoils you in the most generous way.’

We recently caught up with Jonathan at his home/studio, right in the heart of the city.

What have been some of your career highlights so far?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible creatives over the years, and working closely with Rose Myers at Windmill Theatre is an ongoing creative relationship almost 10 years old now.  As a Designer, working with a Director on multiple projects means you inevitably start to create a language and signature aesthetic together.

Rose is incredibly visually driven as a director; she makes incredible pictures. Windmill made its first feature film in 2015, Girl Asleep, and I’m really proud of my work as Production and Costume designer.

The transition from theatre to film was very natural. I loved being able to create sets with more detail, and costumes with full hair and makeup.  Usually, in theatre, performers are doubling up so they have compromised looks, and theatre sets are all designed to Rubix cube from the main set. There’s a freedom to film and a restraint to theatre, I love them both for their differences.

Tell us about your work on the forthcoming State Theatre Company South Australia play, ‘After Dinner’, which opens this weekend?

After Dinner was written by Andrew Bovell in 1987. It centres around five lonely hearts in a pub bistro. Our set design was inspired by Australian ‘60s and ‘70s public bars in Melbourne. We embraced the large size of the stage, which will highlight the desperation of the lonesome hearts – there are quite a few unoccupied tables with peach carnations and baby’s breath.

The characters bring the ‘80s with them onstage.  Director Corey McMahon and I were not interested in creating ‘80s ‘clowns’, recreating an ‘internet search’ version of the 80’s. We are aiming for nuance and believability, but with a slightly heightened feel. I find the ‘80s has some pretty stylish looks, it was such an interesting time in Australia politically, aspirationally and visually. The clash of American branding with Australiana mixed with silhouettes from the ‘40s and ‘50s created a very unique, mutated style, bursting with powerful geometry, colour and pattern.

Where do you typically create?

My work time is usually split between theatres or locations, and with working in my studio.  My studio has always been in my home, and this is where I create the production designs – the technical drawings, architectural models, costume sketches, and collages.

My apartment sits above the main street in the old East End of central Adelaide. Living and working here keeps me connected to the machine of the city, I spend a bit of time alone in my studio, so the street keeps me inspired and motivated – sometimes a character literally walks past that inspires a look in a production!

What’s next for you?

This year has some fun design projects in store: a production with Melbourne Theatre Company called Astroman, again set in the 1980s, about a young indigenous teen in Geelong who’s actually a mathematical genius that spends his spare hours in the local video game arcade called the ASTROCADE. It’s going to be super fun to invent a work based around ‘80s video games.

I’m also in development with Windmill Pictures on our next film School Dance, and this is another ‘80s inspired idea… starting to see a pattern this year! I’m really looking forward to this film, the conversations have stared with our Director of Photography, and the ideas are exciting and have a unique lens on the period. A more artful and unusual version of the period is emerging.

Also, late in the year a musical that I designed for Windmill Theatre/State Theatre Company, Rumpelstiltskin, is heading over to the Southbank Centre in London.

Catch Jonathan’s sets and costumes for South Australia’s State Theatre Company‘s new performance After Dinner, opening in Adelaide this Saturday, April 7th.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net