ARGENTINA comes to Fyshwick as Canberra Philharmonic Society prepares to hit the stage in March with the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, “Evita”.
Ian Croker, probably Canberra’s best-known actor, in this case is the set designer and is in the final stage of his Argentinan recreation.
We meet at Philo’s headquarters in Collie Street, where Croker shows me the constructed set and sketches of the finish that will suggest worn-down stucco and facades of the poverty-stricken world where the real Eva Duarte Peron lived before she became a political superstar and almost a saint.
For once Croker’s not acting in the show, so he’s been busy researching the era when Juan Domingo Peron and his wife entertained their compatriots in what was surely an act of political showbiz.
It’s all in a day’s work for Croker, who began painting and drawing at age three and has, he estimates, painted more than 500 sets.
He used to be famous in Goulburn, where he acted and built sets for the late John Spicer at Lieder Theatre until Spicer lured him to help with “Pride and Prejudice” at Rep in 1986, working on the set for “Lola Montez” in 1988 and upstaging everyone at Theatre 3 as the MC in Jon Stephens’ 1989 production of “Cabaret”.
There, he joined veteran set designer Brian Sudding to help paint the set, commending a designing collaboration that has survived until now. Croker happily admits the influence of the much more experienced Sudding, who taught him the value of making a three-dimensional model and how to save money by using recycling materials.
Looking back on a lifetime of set design, Croker notes that some directors practically ignore the designer, some call the designer in at the beginning as barb barnett did last year on “Equus” at Rep, and rare ones, like David Atfield, encourage directors to go “outside the box”.
As Croker investigated the background story he concluded that Eva Peron didn’t just control the populace, “she lulled them”.
The show is, he believes, a romanticised version of the real story, so he kept his eye on TV programs and films that could provide visual inspiration.
Thanks to Philo’s capacious Fyshwick facilities, he was able to set the whole stage up outdoors and use a revolve that could change the scene from palace to bedroom to boardroom to street when necessary.
He hasn’t created a replica of the famous Casa Rosada (Pink House) of Buenos Aires, but has chosen worn-down sandstone with a slightly burnt finish that should create the right atmosphere. With some pride, he shows me the cut-down carpet rolls he’s used for roof tiles – the uncut carpet rolls make fine pillars.
Croker, who believes “nothing finishes a set off like paint”, laments the decline of scenic artistry and the increasing use of projected backdrops, saying: “It’s like watching a very large TV”.
All that remains now is the painting of the “Evita” set. “I always do that… that’s what I’m good at,” he says.
“Evita”, directed by Jim McMullen, at Erindale Theatre, March 5-21, bookings to philo.org.au/tickets/evita