Sean Kenny (theatre designer)

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Sean Kenny
Born 23 December 1929
Portroe, County Tipperary, Ireland
Died 11 June 1973 (aged 43)
London, UK
Nationality Irish
Occupation Scenic, costume and lighting designer (theatre and film)
Spouse(s) Jan Walker
Judy Huxtable
Partner(s) Judy Geeson (1969–1973)
Children 3 sons (Mac, Shane, and Mark)
Awards 1963 Tony Award
Best Scenic Designer for the New York production of Oliver!

Sean Kenny (23 December 1929 – 11 June 1973) was an Irish theatre and film scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer and director. Kenny was most notable as the set designer for the musicals of Lionel Bart including Oliver!, Lock Up Your Daughters, and Blitz!.


Kenny was born in Portroe, County Tipperary, Ireland in 1929. While he was still an architecture student, at the age of 20, Kenny and three others sailed from Ireland to New York in a 36' sailboat, "The Ituna" in 1950.[1]

Kenny was a contributor to The Establishment, a standup satire and jazz club in London founded by Peter Cook and Nicholas Luard.[2]

In 1966, Kenny married model Judy Huxtable. She later described him as "regularly unfaithful", and left him to marry Peter Cook.[3]

Following his divorce, Kenny lived with the actress Judy Geeson until his sudden death from a heart attack and brain haemorrhage at the age of 43. In Stoned by Andrew Loog Oldham, Oldham pays tribute to Kenny as one of the brilliant and original minds working in London theatre in the 1960s, particularly for his work on Lionel Bart's musicals Oliver! and Lock Up Your Daughters.[4]

In Stoned, Kenny's partner Judy Geeson pays this tribute to him: "Sean had an unusual combination of abilities: he had the creativity to dream up a design. But he also had a brilliant engineer's brain so he didn't only dream it, he knew how to make it."[5]

Design style[edit]

Kenny collaborated with the author and director to make the scenery contribute so significantly to the production that the scenery became a character in the play. Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh wrote about Kenny's designs for Oliver!: "A lot of the original 1960 production had been written during rehearsal to accompany the working of Sean Kenny's set, as Oliver! has an episodic story that requires quick and varied changes of locale."[6]

Peter Roberts wrote in Plays and Players about Kenny's design for the inaugural production of Hamlet for the National Theatre at The Old Vic theatre in 1963: "The scenic shorthand of Sean Kenny's revolving set has all the vigour and unfussy force of O'Toole's performance in the title role...From a practical point of view it enables the director to deploy his cast three-dimensionally, in height as well as across the stage and enables scene changes to be effected rapidly and practically." December 1963.[7]

For each production Kenny invented what he called a frame, as in framework or scaffold or skeleton. For productions with small budgets the frame would be stationary and for productions with large budgets the frame would be dynamic, moving. In Oliver! the frame consisted of multi-level scaffolding built on a rotating turntable and two rotating side wagons, properly called ring fragments, that followed the curve of the turntable. In Pickwick, the frame was four multi-level scaffolds on wagons that could move in any direction, like four rolling houses. For Blitz! the frame was four multi-level scaffolds on rolling wagons and two towers that rolled up and down stage connected by a bridge that raised and lowered while the towers were moving. In each production this frame provided the different spaces, entrances, levels and playing areas needed by the script and by the action.[8]


Incomplete list:



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