Happy birthday to Scottish icon John Byrne who celebrates his 79th birthday on Sunday 6 January. John has played an important role in our recent history, as the creator of the much-celebrated design for the King’s dome, ‘All the World’s a Stage’.
The design, which was painted onto the King’s dome in July 2013 following an award-winning decorative restoration, has become a focal point at the King’s Theatre. Much photographed and much-admired, the contemporary addition to the historic auditorium is also the largest public artwork by one of Scotland’s greatest living artists.
Rich in theatrical motifs and references, John’s design for the King’s dome was painted onto the 17m high dome in the summer of 2013 by a team led by scenic artist Kevin Leary and including John Byrne’s daughter Celie Byrne and John himself. The work replaced the previous design, completed in 1985, but damaged and in a state of disrepair by 2012, providing the ideal opportunity for a major contemporary commission.
The installation of the mural was documented in film and photography. The BBC used the occasion of the dome mural’s creation to commission a documentary film about John as part of the ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ series. This film captures some of the challenges of painting a 78.5 sq/m artwork 100 feet above the ground, on a wooden platform balanced on top of a free-standing scaffolding structure. Often working 14-hour days, the team took 4 weeks to complete the commission and the whole process was documented by photographer Ron O’Donnell, from the drawing board to the unveiling of the new dome design on Tuesday 6 August 2013. Visitors to the King’s can see a selection of Ron’s photographs on display in the downstairs stalls foyer.
John Byrne’s beautiful design is a vivid and colourful play on duality, light and shade, the sun and the moon, rich in theatrical motifs and featuring the opening lines from Jacques’ famous monologue in As You Like It ‘All the world’s a stage’.
John Byrne, explaining the origin of the commission, says: ‘When my partner and I went to the King's to see the splendid West End touring production of The Ladykillers, we glanced up at the dome and noticed that part of it had been replastered, which made us wonder what was going to happen with it. You can imagine my surprise and delight when a few weeks later I was asked if I would like to accept the commission to provide a new design for the dome. I jumped at the chance!’
We couldn’t be more proud of the King’s dome mural. It’s become a cherished part of the King’s Theatre’s history and as we move towards the next stage of development at the King’s, we know that the harlequin and the flame-haired beauty of John’s dome design will be appraising it all from above.