Cabaret’s Tom Scutt charts his path to success
The award-winning theatre designer and Soho House member is on a mission to get more creatives back into the world of theatre
Tuesday 11 October 2022 By Catherine Jarvie
It’s not often that London’s West End is taken by storm. Yes, there are plenty of five-star theatrical hits and long-running shows (we’re looking at you, The Mousetrap), but a creative production that’s simultaneously ground-breaking and a box-office smash? That is the alchemy all shows aspire to – and which Cabaret At The Kit Kat Club has achieved since it stormed the stage in December 2021, starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley.
It’s the show itself, however, that keeps the crowds coming back, through cast changes and more. And a big part of that success can be laid firmly at the door of Tom Scutt, whose set and costumes for Cabaret have garnered praise and awards in equal measure (including seven Olivier awards this year). With two new leading players taking to the stage this month, its success looks set to run and run.
Still only 39 years old, Scutt has already had an enviable career working for London’s top theatres and companies (National Theatre, Royal Court, Donmar Warehouse, ENO among them), as well as staging live shows for performers from The Pet Shop Boys and Stan Smith to Christine and the Queens, alongside exhibitions, dance and more.
Like all great creatives, Scutt has worked his tail feather off to achieve what he has. And like all great creatives, he makes it look easy. Over to you, Tom.
I’ve just been hammering away at this for years
‘I took an art foundation course at the University of Gloucestershire and a theatre design degree at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. I graduated in 2006 and moved to London in 2007. One of my first design jobs was an immersive dance/ music/ video/ installation adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five in the town square in Fucecchio, Italy, called Dog Tags. People from all over the world were performing. We installed a huge outdoor pool and covered a building in leather hides. I somehow ended up playing keys in the band. Folks were watching hanging out their windows. It was porous and messy, and alive.’
Creating worlds within performance spaces was always something I wanted to do
‘I’ve messed about with what form my part in that takes whether it be acting, composing, designing or directing. I’ve always wanted to have the freedom to explore the hazier zones between departments and roles. I feel like I’m finally being invited to do that more.’
The biggest challenge in my career is holding two contradictory truths at once, equally
‘The first is that you are a cog in an industry, which means there are a set of rules that you must adhere to in order for the machine to function efficiently, affordably and without disruption. The second is that you are an artist with a responsibility to blast down all the walls, question governing structures, represent the voices of those who disrupt the system. The priorities totally conflict. It’s a challenge to keep these things balanced, especially in today’s world.’
Resilience, patience and vision are key
‘In theatre and performance there are many voices to understand and respect as well as your own. Recognise and acknowledge the equal importance of singular artistic expression and collective responsibility. Have healthy boundaries. Have an opinion. But also know when to put your chips down in support of your instincts and when to fold.’
I like to work with people who are equally happy to question how things function and work together to rough out ideas
‘Cabaret was one of those projects – we were blessed with extraordinary producers. The idea had been brewing with Eddie Redmayne and his co-producers Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood for a couple of years. It idea grew under the guidance of producer Adam Speers. Eddie saw mine and Rebecca Frecknall’s production of Summer And Smoke in the West End in 2018 and we became connected to the project in February 2021.’
Change keeps me motivated
‘Being lucky enough to have a platform from which I can explore my own personal changes against a changing global landscape is motivating – those constant rolls of the dice that offer up new angles. It keeps you curious and keeps you learning. I’ve pretty much had to relearn how to do so many elements of my job since the pandemic. It’s just another invitation to keep evolving.’
Be mindful of what success looks like
‘Know the difference between your own personal sense of success and the collective notion of what success is meant to look like. “Success” as a goal is nowhere near as helpful as “success” as a process.’
The most treasured moments in a career like mine aren’t the most evident ones
‘Your craft hits so many variables in every project, it often feels like going back to square one – especially since Covid. My own career highlights are generally those in which I’ve successfully applied my beliefs and values for the better. The representation, creative diversity and ambition of the Cabaret process is certainly one of my happiest experiences.’