We spoke to Lauren about preparing the props for Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's bloodiest play.
What have you worked on for Titus Andronicus?
We've had a few props to think about for Titus. The one that's consumed most thought is when Titus cuts his own hand off... In this particular version, we're having a hospital trolley wheeled on and Titus has his hand removed in a clinical medical way, using a scalpel and an electric bone saw... However, I don't want to give too much away for this!
How do you make the pies, which include the heads of Tamora’s sons?
The pie is an interesting scene. In the same large pie, we have made a few separate compartments: two which are filled with edible food and are served up to eat as part of the scene, and two which hold the boys’ heads. It's all covered with gravy and a large real pastry pie crust provided by our own RSC kitchen – they are making one for every show. We have made the heads by casting the actors’ heads with a new skin-safe product. Using this mould we have been able to cast an exact replica of them out of a flesh-like silicone. Then the faces have been disfigured a little to look like they have been chopped up and cooked in a pie... You can even see bits of what looks like skull and brain!
What materials do you use to create the limbs and heads?
It's been an amazing fun experience making the limbs for Titus. We've had a chance to explore the new products available that are usually only used on big special effects films. One of the director’s main prop requests was for the two severed heads that are placed into clear plastic bags and handled. The director wanted them to be as realistic as possible, to be very fleshy and look freshly killed. I knew you could get different types of silicone products from soft to hard but, after looking into it properly, the options out there have been mind-blowing.
There have been many different limbs and heads to create, all of which have a slightly different quality for its purpose. Our freshly severed heads have been made from a soft silicone called Eco-flex, which has a really believable touch. We have worked closely with our Wigs and Makeup department to add all the individual hairs and finishing skin tones to the heads, using their magic to bring them to life.
We have different stages of Titus's hand, which are made from different versions of a product called Dragon Skin. The arm that is cut is softer and fleshy, then the same hand that goes in Lavinia's mouth is lighter with a foam filling. To make the same hand seem decomposed after nine months, we used a harder quality material and a skeleton hand set in the same mould. We took this from David Troughton, who plays Titus, so it's an exact replica of his actual arm and hand.
How have you worked with the team in Wigs to create these items?
We've been working very closely with our Wigs department – they have been so patient in waiting while we cast actors’ body parts, refine our moulds, then make the final objects. It’s only then that the Wigs department add the final flesh tones and all the individual hairs. We've had to work closely to communicate what products we have used, so they know what paints best adhere to each product. It's been hard work and a long process in a very short time, but I think everyone feels like the final outcome reflects that hard work.
How long does it take to create each of the items?
There are a few processes to produce the body parts. Casting the actors can take up to three hours. When we cover their faces, they are sat for about half an hour, only being able to breathe through their nose.
Fast-casting one body part then takes about a day, as well as to sand and refine our mould of any small imperfections. This cast plastic product is then moulded again using Body Double or Mould Max to make a resin jacket, which can take one to two days. This makes our moulds very strong and we can reproduce the final product over and over again.
Our final process is then to mix our silicones to make the final replicated limb... This can take one to two days to cure properly. Then we send these very bald items to the Wigs team, who bring them to life.
Titus Andronicus plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 2 September, before moving to the Barbican in London.