Motley Theatre Design Group

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Motley was the name of the theatre design firm made up of three English designers, sisters Margaret Harris (known as "Percy") (1904–2000) and Sophie Harris (1900–1966), and Elizabeth Montgomery Wilmot (1902–1993). The name derives from the word 'Motley' as used by Shakespeare. The group won two Tony Awards for costume design and was nominated seven additional times.

They met at art school in the 1920s and went on to great success as John Gielgud's designers during the 1930s. They started teaching theatre design at Michel Saint-Denis's London Theatre Studio (1936–1939), the first time a design course had been incorporated into a drama school in the UK. Margaret Harris and Elizabeth Montgomery spent World War II in the United States, designing for Broadway, and Harris also worked with Charles Eames on his moulded plywood airplane parts. Sophie Harris, now married to George Devine, and mother of their child Harriet, stayed in the UK designing for stage and screen. After the war Margaret Harris returned to the UK, and both sisters once again joined Saint-Denis, teaching design at the Old Vic Theatre School (1947–1953). Elizabeth Montgomery stayed in the United States designing for many Broadway productions. All three continued to design under the name "Motley" for both stage and screen.

The Motley design team were closely associated with the work of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre especially 1948-59. Productions included: 1948 Troilus and Cressid in which Paul Scofield played Troilus, the 1953 Antony and Cleopatra and 1957 As You Like It both featuring Peggy Ashcroft, The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1955 with Anthony Quayle, Hamlet in 1958 with Michael Redgrave in the title role and the 1959 King Lear with Charles Laughton.[1]

In 1966, Margaret Harris founded Motley Theatre Design Course which continues to this day, now under the directorship of designer Alison Chitty (OBE).[2]

Motley Collection of Theatre & Costume Design[edit]

The Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design is a valuable source of documentation on the history of theatre and is housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is a rare collection of original materials on the theatre comprising over 5000 items from more than 150 productions in England and the United States. These materials include costume and set designs, sketches, notes, photographs, prop lists, storyboards, and swatches of fabric. After the members of the Motley Group had retired, Michael Mullin, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, met Margaret Harris and expressed an interest in the University acquiring the over 40 years worth of designs that the group had accumulated. After long negotiations with Sotheby's, who had been contracted to auction the items, the University of Illinois finally reached an agreement in April, 1981, to purchase the entire collection. This ensured that a valuable resource on the history of 20th century theatre would be preserved intact for the benefit of future generations. The Library has digitized the collection in its entirety to make it publicly available.[3]

Work (Broadway selected)[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Motley Theatre Design Course, accessed July 10, 2009
  3. ^ University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library (2010). "Motley Collection of Theatre & Costume Design". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 

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