Barry Kay, internationally acclaimed stage and costume designer, photographer, born 1932 Melbourne Australia, died 1985 London England





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BARRY KAY ARCHIVE

London





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Barry Kay – Biography – 1956-1965






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1956

January 10
Première of The Thieves' Carnival; comedy, romance; assignment costumes; direction [?], Melbourne University Student Theatre [?], Union House Theatre [?], Melbourne [?]; the opening season lasts from January 10 to October 15, 1956. Although likely, it is not established whether Barry Kay's costume designs were intended for this production.

February - [?]
Barry Kay exhibits his paintings at the Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne; in a statement, dated 30 June 1956, the gallery records the sales of "Decor for a Tableau Vivant", "Three-Fold Decorated Screen" and "Daphnis and Chloe". Kay's theatrical set design for "Badinage", created in 1956, appears to be one of the exhibits, as its 1997 donation to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, reveals.

February - March - April
Kay settles in England, making London his home. Not losing any time in making it known who he is, and in seeking professional introductions hoping to be commissioned to design for the theatre, he writes to Frederick Ashton and The British Council. Their responses are favourable, both granting Kay interviews and the chance to present his portfolio.

April 10
A letter written to Kay by a friend, Harold Holt [3.1], the Australian Minister for Immigration, seems to indicate that prior to leaving Australia Kay asks Holt, or Holt offers Kay, to exercise his influence in recommending him to professionals with connections to the performing arts in England. It appears that Kay provides Holt with a statement of his skills and experience, which the latter distributes among those he knows. In his letter Holt notes, "I have sent copies on to Mr Armstrong and Mr Alfred Stirling [presumably the Australian barrister-at-law, writer and diplomat; ed], so that they will have forward notice of the possibility of you contacting them".

June 18
Première of Pulcinella; ballet; assignment scenery; costumes Phyllidia Law; choreography Elizabeth West after Léonide Massine (Leonide Myasin); Western Theatre Ballet [3.2]; Theatre Royal, Bristol.

December
Following his stay at various London locations since he moved to England, Kay takes up permanent residence at Hertford Street in Shepherd's Market, Mayfair, London, where he also establishes his studio for may years to come.

December 20
Not only out of interests, but also to supplement his income, Kay is working as a graphic artist as well as a textile designer. He creates a Christmas card with a semi-mythical feel to it and, as for his ideas for fabrics [3.3], the press notes that the young artist's designs have been snatched up by none other than the celebrated and most advanced of English enterprises – Ascher Fabrics.

Barry Kay always designed at his own studio. Here, choreographers and directors would view his set models at various stages of progress and discuss their requirements with him. During the final stages, when set models had been transferred to the theatre, work would continue there in close liaison with the workshops. Whenever Kay worked abroad, he needed to set up temporary work space in or near the theatre, at times also at the hotel where he was staying.

As it takes far more time for theatre workshops to construct the scenery and props than is required by wardrobe and ancillary departments to tailor costumes, the sets and props were usually designed first. Occasionally, when suddenly struck by an idea, he would design costumes concurrently.

Scribbling an initial design concept on a napkin, a restaurant menu, a discarded envelope, any scrap of paper at hand, or even on the back of a matchbox, was not an uncommon practice of his.

In creating costumes, Kay's mother and an aunt, both extremely fashion-conscious ladies, were an endless source of inspiration. The way they dressed provided him with a wealth of ideas. They keep recurring in a great number of his character costumes in a variety of ballets he designed.

Apart from the extensive research Kay undertook in designing sets and costumes – by consulting his own and external libraries, archives, collections and museums – he also listened to the ballet and opera music over and over again to get inspired by the mood they convey. As an accomplished pianist, he often played the scores himself.

Occasionally, Kay visited other countries to study local architecture and its settings, indigenous dresses as well as equipment and utensils. For on-the-spot orientation and inspiration he travelled to Greece, Morocco and Spain prior to designing the stage and movie versions of Don Quixote, making sketches and taking photographs. He visited Nuremberg in Germany to get the feel of the town for designing the sets for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. There, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum provided him usually restricted access to original designs for this opera, dating from 1868.

Kay distinguished clearly between the terms 'Première' and 'First Night'. A Première denotes the very first presentation ever of a production with any one company. A First Night refers to a production's presentation following its première with the same company, and either at the same theatre or at another venue. The first performance of a revival production, with the same company and at the same theatre where it was premièred previously, would also constitute a First Night.


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1957

June 24
Première of The Prisoners; ballet; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography Peter Darrel; Western Theatre Ballet; Dartington Festival, Dartington Hall, Devon. The fruiful working retlationship between Peter Darrell and Barry Kay, evolving from designing this production, establishes Kay as principal designer of Western Theatre Ballet for many years to come. This staging represents a benchmark production in that it paves the way for Kay's career in England.

July 25
Première of Non Stop; ballet; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet; Arts Theatre Club, London.

Summer
First night of Pulcinella; ballet; revival; assignment scenery; costumes Law; choreography West after Massine; Western Theatre Ballet; Dartington Festival [?], Dartington Hall [?], Devon.

November 19
Première of Measure for Measure; drama, comedy; assignment scenery, costumes and properties; production and direction Margaret Webster; Old Vic Company (dissolved in 1963); Old Vic Theatre, London; 1957-58 season.



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1958

January 21
Upon the recommendation of Charles Landstone, author of plays, Bryan Bailey – first director of the newly erected Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, to be opened in March of this year – approaches Kay, proposing a meeting to discuss design work in connection with the theatre's inauguration season. Their meeting results in Kay being invited to design Picnic: A Summer Romance by William Inge, Romanoff and Juliet by Peter Ustinov, and Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw.

April 14
Première of Picnic: A Summer Romance; drama, romance; assignment scenery, costumes and properties; direction Peter Dews; Belgrade Theatre Company; Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; first performance in England, second production of the Belgrade Theatre's inaugural season.

April 20 - May 2
Kay exhibits "Designs for the Theatre" [3.4], showing scenery and costume drawings he created for productions in England over recent years; Brummel's Gallery; South Yarra, Melbourne.

April 28 - May 10
Première of Romanoff and Juliet; play; assignment scenery, costumes [?]; direction Peter Streuli; Belgrade Theatre Company; Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; inaugural season.

May 12 - 24
Première of Saint Joan; drama; assignment scenery, costumes [?]; direction Peter Streuli [?]; Belgrade Theatre Company; Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; inaugural season.

July 22
World première of The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore [3.5]; madrigal fable, dance, opera; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography Darrell; New Opera Company; Sadler's Wells Theatre, London; revised version 1962.

August 12 - 22
First night, revival of Pulcinella; ballet; assignment scenery; costumes Law; choreography West after Massine; Western Theatre Ballet; Lyric Opera House, Hammersmith, London.

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1959

June - Day [?]
Première of A Purcell Cabaret; medley; assignment costumes; "devised by RL & Colin Graham (vers 1)" [Raymond Leppard; sic]; direction Colin Graham [?]; English Opera Group Ensemble; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk; Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts; Recorded and aired [date ?] by BBC Radio; aired by KPFK Radio, Los Angeles, CA, 1960/Jan/19.

November 18
Première of Bal de la Victoire; ballet; assignment scenery ans costumes; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet and Béjart Ballet; Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels.

November 18
Première of Chiaroscuro; revue; assignment scenery; costumes Peter Cazalet; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet; Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels.

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Space_e Barry Kay at his Mayfair studio in London, ca 1956, matriculated at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and enrolls in arts and design classes to eventually establish himself as a painter, all the same, his fascination with the theatre runs just as deep

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Space_e Barry Kay at his Mayfair studio in London, ca 1956, exhibiting as a painter and draftsman, continues designing for the theatre. Making a name for himself in both métiers, he attracts the attention of corporate business. He feels equally at home at creating smart promotional advertising art as well as designing sets and costumes for the theatre.

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A Melbourne local press photo of Barry Kay, ca 1965, welcoming him back in his home town, highly talented, internationally acclaimed stage and costume designer, later in his career also distinguished photographer. Designs for ballet, drama, opera and film. International ballet companies and opera houses, theatres.

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Space_e Barry Kay,London 1966, highly talented, internationally acclaimed stage and costume designer, later in his career also distinguished photographer. Designs for ballet, drama, opera and film. International ballet companies and opera houses, theatres.

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Space_e Barry Kay, London 1971, highly talented, internationally acclaimed stage and costume designer, later in his career also distinguished photographer. Designs for ballet, drama, opera and film. International ballet companies and opera houses, theatres.

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Mayfair studio, London ca 1956
photo News Chronicle


Mayfair studio, London ca 1956
photo News Chronicle


Melbourne ca 1965
photo The Herald & Weekly Times


London 1967


London 1971
photo Shirley Danglow



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1960

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April 27
Airing of Bal de la Victoire; ballet; BBC, programme "Music for You".

May 8
First night of Bal de la Victoire; ballet; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet; Royal Court Theatre, London.

October 21
Dutch première of The Prisoners, designed by Barry Kay in 1957 [ibid]; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet on tour; sponsors British Council and Theater Instituut Nederland; venues Stadsschouwburg Rotterdam and Stadsschouwburg Haarlem; event Ballet Festival, Holland; season 1960/61. It is not clear which of the two venues is hosting the première.

November 18
Première of Bal de la Victoire; ballet; assignment scenery ans costumes; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet and Béjart Ballet; Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels.

November 13
Première of Sound Barrier; ballet; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography Darrell; Sunday Ballet Club; Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

December [?] - 15
As one of eighteen modern Australian artists, Kay participates in an exhibition of summer dresses painted with original designs. He displays a fabric of blue and gold treatment throughout. His design, along with the contributions by his colleagues, is praised as commendably planned in relation to the simple form of the dress. All designs are auctioned on December 15. Museum of Modern Arts, Hicks Gallery; Bourke Street, Melbourne.

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1961

March 22
Première of The Cunning Little Vixen; opera; assignment scenery, costumes and properties; direction Colin Graham; conductor Colin Davis; Sadler's Wells Opera Company; Sadler's Wells Theatre, London.

Spring - Summer
As co-designer, Kay is working on ideas for setting and costumes for Peter Darrell's Salade, a ballet to be presented at this year's Edinburgh International Festival.

Lord Harewood, Director of the Edinburgh Festival, invites Barry Kay to artistically oversee the staging of a triple bill of ballet works, including Salade. In this capacity, Kay collaborates with two other participating Australian artists: Arthur Boyd, painter and sculptor, designing the set and costumes for Igor Stravinsky's ballet Renard; Ian Spurling, stage designer, providing the scenery and costumes for Kenneth MacMillan’s The Seven Deadly Sins, a ballet based on the Brecht-Weill co-production - both for Western Theatre Ballet.

September 4
Première of Salade; ballet; assignment scenery and costumes; co-designer Peter Cazalet; choreography Peter Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet; Empire Theatre [3.6], Edinburgh International Festival, duration September 4 - 6. The ballet is presented as part of a triple bill.





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1962

June 28
First night of The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore; madrigal fable, dance, opera; revised version; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography Darrell; Western Theatre Ballet; Theatre Royal, Bristol.

Autumn - Winter
In search of commissions to design for Australian theatres, Kay pays his hometown, Melbourne, a visit. Undertaking his own public relations, he initiates an interview with the local press. In the brief announcement, he declares that "there isn't enought theatre work here just yet".





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1963

June 24
World première of Solitaire pas de deux; ballet; assignment costumes; choreography Kenneth MacMillan; Western Theatre Ballet; Theatre Royal, Bristol. – Barry Kay's first collaboration with Kenneth MacMillan; impresssed by the work Kay did for Peter Darrell, MacMillan commissioned him to design this piece.

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1964

April 2
World première of Images of Love; ballet; assignment scenery and costumes; choreography MacMillan; The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, London. An avid champion of bringing about a fundamental change in ballet design by pioneering three-dimensionally constructed sets, Kay achieved his notable breakthrough with this production.

May 4
Gala Première of Divertimento; ballet; assignment costumes; choreography MacMillan; pas de deux for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev; Western Theatre Ballet [?]; Theatre Royal, Bath, Somerset; Bath Festival of the Arts.

To advertize the festival, Kay also designs a street décor intended for display in Bath Street, Bath, city centre.

July 2
Première of the comedy No Why; drama; assignment scenery and costumes; direction John Schlesinger; Royal Shakespeare Company; Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts.

July 2
Première of The Keyhole / Le Serrure; drama; assignment scenery and costumes; direction Garry O'Connor; Royal Shakespeare Company; Aldwych Theatre, London.

August 5
Première of Victor; drama; assignment scenery and costumes; direction Robin Midgley; Royal Shakespeare Company; Aldwych Theatre, London.

December 3
Première of Chaganog; revue; assignment scenery and costumes; direction Alfred Rodrigues; production Peter Bridge; selected cast; Vaudeville Theatre, London.

Month / Day [?]
At some stage in the course of this year Barry Kay is designing for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Stockholm, apparently performing in Copenhagen; assignment [?], [subject [?]. [3.7]

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1965

March 17
Première of Kindly Monkeys; drama, play with dancing; assignment scenery; direction Krishna Shah; New Arts Theatre, London (today: Arts Theatre). In his review in the Financial Times, John Higgins describes Kay's scenery, most likely based on the Brahma temple in Pushkar, as magical.

April
First night of Chaganog; revue; assignment scenery and costumes; direction Rodrigues; production Peter Bridge; selected cast; St. Martin’s Theatre, London.

July 5 - 20
Debut of Darling; drama, comedy, satire; movie; assignment consultant designer [3.8]; costumes Julie Harris; scenery David Ffolkes; direction John Schlesinger; starring Dirk Bogarde, Julie Christie and Laurence Harvey; venue 4th Moscow International Film Festival; USA première 3 August 1965; UK première 16 September 1965.

Summer - Winter
Having spotted Kay's refined skills and potential for creating three-dimensional sets, evident in Images of Love, Rudolf Nureyev commissions him to design the scenery and costumes for two ballets – Raymonda act III for the The Royal Ballet Touring Company, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, and Tancredi for the Wiener Staatsopernballett (since 2010 Wiener Staatsballett), State Opera House, Vienna. Both productions are scheduled to be premièred mid next year.

December 13 - 24
"Barry Kay: Stage Designs", an exhibition of scenery and costume designs created for MacMillan's Images of Love; also on view are tentative sketches for Nureyev's forthcoming productions of Tancredi and Don QuixoteV; Grosvenor Gallery, Mayfair, London.





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1966

forward to 1966-1975





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[3.1]

Harold Holt was the Australian Minister for Immigration from 19 December 1949 to 24 October 1956. Later he became the 17th Prime Minister of Australia, holding office from 26 January 1966 until his death on 19 December 1967. back to text





[3.2]

Peter Darrell and Elizabeth West originally founded Western Theatre Ballet in 1957 in Bristol. The company transferred to Glasgow in 1969 to become Scottish Theatre Ballet. It was renamed Scottish Ballet in 1974. back to text





[3.3]

For Zika Ascher, Barry Kay designed a silk scarf of two background variations – one in café au lait, the other in dove blue – both with a frieze of black stylized, imaginary scenes running around the border and just a few cream-coloured stars scattered in the centre. The silk-screen-printing is of an extremely high standard, for which Ascher was renowned. back to text





[3.4]

In the context of appropriately exhibiting theatre designs at Melbourne galleries, and in comparing Kay's designs to those of Kenneth Rowell, Gordon F De'Lisle, the photograhhic illustrator, is commenting in the Melbourne newspaper, The Age: «Barry Kay's work ... is patchy and immature, but is it not possible that he will emerge another Rowell, or better? The only way we can find out is to see his work hung, to watch him take on stature, and to encourage him in his endeavours by buying his pictures if they please us.»

In contrast to De'Lisle, Arnold Shore, the art critic of The Age, has this to say: «The attraction at Brummel's Gallery is Barry Kay's "Designs for the Theatre". As working drawings these are rather well dressed. The drawings of bodies and underneath costumes is not enlightening, but this may not be a "working drawing" necessity. He has certainly been successful with designing décor and costumes for the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells. Some of the humorous Measure for Measure characters, and the Pulcinella décor – a brilliant sea of colour – could explain this success.» back to text





[3.5]

The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore << external link. back to text





[3.6]

The Empire Theatre is no longer in existence. In 1994, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre was erected on its site. back to text





[3.7]

Notes held at the Archive indicate that Barry Kay was working on a production for Kenneth MacMillan. It appears to have been staged with the Royal Swedish Ballet in Copenhagen. To date, no further details have emerged. back to text





[3.8]

The Archive holds conflicting information in respect of Kay's assignment to Darling; both consultant designer and art director are recorded. It would appear more likely for Kay to have worked in conjunction with the costume designer, Julie Harris, or the set designer, David Ffolkes, rather than with the art director, Ray Simm. back to text



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