Melbourne-based international set and costume designer Marg Horwell is an artist in demand following her Olivier Award for The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Sarah Snook. At the award ceremony in London in April this year, Horwell strolled onto the stage, no speech notes in sight, casually chatted with presenter Edward Enninful (the British editor, stylist and former editor-in-chief of British Vogue) and thanked everyone she needed to thank for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) play that took London’s West End by storm.

“I’ve watched [the acceptance speech] back on Youtube, which is an incredibly confronting thing to do because I can see I’m very, very overwhelmed and I can hear it in my voice,” she tells Broadsheet. “I don’t get starstruck by many people but Edward Enninful I would be most susceptible to being an idiot around. I said something like, ‘I’m such a huge fan of your work’. But he’d seen [Dorian Gray] and was saying he’d really enjoyed it, which was lovely.”

Horwell compared the ceremony and afterparty to being in a television show. “It was amazing to meet people whose work you admire, designers I love,” she says, referencing Scottish theatre designer Bunny Christie and Fleabag actor Andrew Scott, and of course Snook, whose work on Dorian Gray earnt her the best actress Olivier. “It was humbling, exciting, wild.”

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The ceremony capped off an incredible few weeks for the Wagga-raised designer who, after opening Dorian Gray in London, headed to Bran Castle (also known as “Dracula’s Castle”) in Transylvania to research the upcoming STC show, Dracula. Then she returned to London to re-costume the cast of The Confessions for the London tour of that theatre show, co-commissioned by The National Theatre of Great Britain, Rising Melbourne and Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg.

With Dracula, she is now preparing for one of her most challenging productions yet. Directed by outgoing artistic director Kip Williams, it’s the final instalment in Williams’s celebrated Gothic “cine-theatre” trilogy, which has also included Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They’ve proven a calling card for Williams with their astonishing theatrical and cinematic feats, in which performers are filmed live, often interacting with pre-recorded footage of themselves on stage.

For Dracula, which brings to life author Bram Stoker’s legendary horror story, actress Zahra Newman will inhabit every role. She’ll undergo 20 costume changes without leaving the stage.

“If the task is to make Zahra look different 20 times that’s a pretty amazing challenge,” says Horwell, showing me a photo of a completely transformed Newman dressed as a vampire bride, noting she “effortlessly looks like a creepy Victorian doll and Cardi B all at once”.

Newman will also don 17 wigs, moustaches, sideburns, facial hair and beards, and brandish various hats and other props. “She’s a formidable theatre-maker and performer. She’s incredible.”

The show has a team of three on-stage camera operators, led by video designer Craig Wilkinson, innumerable props, moveable scenery and two large video screens. “There’s lots of moving parts, fast changes and our automation system is a new configuration so we’re still ironing out the kinks,” Horwell says.

The legendary Victorian-era epic is being brought to life by Dorian Gray’s original creative team, including lighting designer Nick Schlieper, composer Clemence Williams and associate director Ian Michael. The team will reunite once again when Dorian Gray opens on Broadway in early 2025.

Horwell also works regularly with Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) as well as independent local companies, working on opera, dance and short film. Last year she designed sets and costumes for German company Deutsche Oper’s Die Tote Stadt and in 2018 for the English National Opera’s Salome alongside Australian director Adena Jacobs.

Her Olivier win has resulted in a flurry of calls and emails from around the world, most of them from people Horwell has never met.

“I’m always terrified [the job I’m working on will be my last] and that I’ll never work again. Anything that eases that just a little is an incredible thing. I’ve been approached by people I never imagined having a phone call with, which is quite surreal and amusing – but really exciting to think of the next five to 10 years of my career as being mine to sculpt.”

Dracula is on at Roslyn Packer Theatre from Jul 2 to Aug 4. $60–$140.

sydneytheatre.com.au