Sean Kenny, film and stage production designer, architect: theatrical work and designs, 1959-1973

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

A collection of material relating to theatrical productions and architectural projects carried out by Sean Kenny in the 1960s and 1970s. It includes groundplans, sketches, photographs, slides, scrapbooks, press cuttings, correspondence, films and tapes.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sean Kenny (23 Dec 1932-11 Jun 1973) was born in Portroe, County Tipperary, Ireland. He was educated at St Flannan's College, County Clare, and trained as an architect at the Dublin School of Architecture. Upon graduating, he went to study at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Arizona, USA. After two years, he returned to Ireland to begin his architectural career. In 1957, he came to London to work in theatre and turned to stage design. His first work for theatre was the set design for Sean O'Casey's play The Shadow of a Gunman, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London in January 1957.

He created sets for the world premiere of The Hostage, directed by Joan Littlewood at Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1960; several plays at the Royal Court including Edna O’Brien’s A Pagan Place; The Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of The Devils and Romeo and Juliet; the National Theatre's Uncle Vanya with Laurence Olivier and Michael Redgrave (1963); and numerous West End productions including Oliver (1960), which won him New York’s Tony Award as Best Designer of the Year; Tchin-Tchin; The Miracle Worker; Stop the World I Want To Get Off (1962); Blitz (1962); Michael Tippett’s opera King Priam, which appeared at Covent Garden in 1962 (he previously designed Tippett’s A Midsummer Marriage); Pickwick (1963); Maggie May (1964); and The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd. He also designed the opera, The Flying Dutchman (1966), at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Between 1960 and 1970, he designed sets for 32 major West End productions. In 1972, he designed the arena production of Clown Around, directed by Gene Kelly, which was shown in the USA.

Kenny had also been associated with the Mermaid Theatre from the time it was being planned. He designed the theatre’s inaugural musical production Lock Up Your Daughters in 1959 and then re-designed the show for the tenth anniversary production. He also wrote, directed and designed Gulliver’s Travels at the Mermaid in 1968. Additionally, he redesigned the interior of the Old Vic Theatre for the National Theatre Company and designed their inaugural production of Hamlet in 1963. He designed the New Winter Garden, Drury Lane, London and a new theatre in the Sussex University Gardner Arts Centre, which opened in November 1969.

He also designed film and television productions, such as ITV’s production of The Plough in 1961. He directed and designed Siobhan McKenna’s One Woman Show Here Are Ladies, which toured extensively in the USA, Canada and Australia. Kenny also designed a mechanised multilayer stage for Casino de Paris in Las Vegas.

During his career, he also worked on other schemes, which included the Linder Nightclub in Margaret Street, London; the 'Domes of the Sea', an all glass underwater restaurant in Nassau, Bahamas; the “Shaping of A Nation” exhibit in the British Pavilion and the Gyrotron Spectacular Ride at Expo '67, Montreal, Canada.

Arrangement

This collection has been arranged as follows:

  • THM/166/1 - Large scale stage production set designs
  • THM/166/2 - Large scale theatre building designs
  • THM/166/3 - Large scale plans for other design projects
  • THM/166/4 - Material relating to stage productions
  • THM/166/5 - Material relating to structural design projects
  • THM/166/6 - Design drawings and photographs relating to the life and work of Sean Kenny
  • THM/166/7 - Scrapbooks relating to the career of Sean Kenny
  • THM/166/8 - Press cuttings relating to the life of Sean Kenny
  • THM/166/9 - Production notes relating to design projects
  • THM/166/10 - Letters of correspondence to and from Sean Kenny
  • THM/166/11 - Sean Kenny's personal papers
  • THM/166/12 - Material relating to Bob Bahl
  • THM/166/13 - Audio recordings relating to stage productions
  • THM/166/14 - Film reels relating to stage productions

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Department of Theatre and Performance biographical file: Sean Kenny

See also AAD/1995/30 Sean Kenny, film and stage production designer, architect: designs and press cuttings, c.1960-c.1969; Victoria and Albert Museum: Archive of Art and Design.

Sean Kenny: NAL Information file, National Art Library