The Reset reveals the play behind the play

In a proud collaboration with the National Theatre, we’re excited to announce The Reset: Three Hours, Three Photographers, Three Theatres – a free photographic exhibition documenting the unsung work of behind-the-scenes teams.


Working alongside three photographers, Callum Su, Max Miechowski, and Laura McCluskey, The Reset: Three Hours, Three Photographers, Three Theatres, opening on 27 June in the Lyttelton Lounge at the National Theatre wields the trio’s unique perspectives to interrogate the reset time between performances. Intimate and often elusive, the show offers a peek into a time, space and pace only experienced by theatre running teams, highlighting not only the characters involved, but the sincerity, stress and necessity of their roles.

Documenting a three-hour period across the National Theatre’s three individual theatres, the UK-based trio, Laura, Max, and Callum, were free to roam and live alongside the backstage teams, to discover the diversity of roles and responsibilities that go into making Britain’s renowned theatre.

GalleryLaura McCluskey: The Reset (Copyright © Laura McCluskey, 2024)

GalleryLaura McCluskey: The Reset (Copyright © Laura McCluskey, 2024)

“Running wardrobe is a team effort. The day begins with the laundry, whether by machine or by hand, and all repairs or small alterations are made to garments, shoes or accessories.”

Michelle MacMillan, wardrobe supervisor

“It felt really welcoming and warm,” photographer Callum Su tells us, describing his first impression of arriving backstage at the National Theatre. “Everyone who worked backstage was super friendly and it felt like they were part of a really big family.” With everyone working together every night for months, “you can imagine everyone gets really close”, he suggests. 

“As a photographer, it’s quite easy to build up an idea of what a space might look like, and what photos might come out of it,” photographer Max Miechowski adds, speaking to his experiences of what it was like to first arrive at the stage. “I had never been backstage at a theatre before, so I felt excited and curious,” he explains, setting the stage so to speak. “We were introduced to various people dressed in full black”, not to mention little to no light.

“No day is the same. There is always a new challenge to overcome or new technology to play with, and I get to do all of this with some of the industry’s elite.”

Ben Steinitz, building systems and compliance manager (sound and video)

“Everyone shuffled around in the dark with a little more grace than us,” Max remarks. Similarly, Laura McCluskey recalls the dramatic setting of being backstage. “I was initially asked to capture the Dorfman Theatre, so on arrival I was surprised to find the backstage very narrow and pitch black,” Laura details, “with a revolving stage and the experimental nature of this theatre, it meant that the area directly behind the stage is small and mechanical,” which led to a bigger area even further back for props and stage hands. “I quickly realised that I would need to use flash and to shoot silently so as not to distract the performance,” she tells us, “and so the main challenge became how I would work around this to tell the story of backstage life in a way that felt exciting.”

“Getting to know people, how they work, what they like and what to avoid is one of the main challenges and adventures within my job – and it’s probably the thing that excites me the most.”

Sophie Maclean, assistant stage manager

Following a recce at the Dorfman Theatre, Laura paints quite the picture of what life is like in the wholly unique experiences of the National Theatre workers. “Looking around the dock I was soon drawn to items and props out of context from the stage,” she continues, such as tiny doodles, thank you notes, lots of nuts and even a fake egg. “It all felt quite odd and intriguing and so I shot a couple of rolls of film of things I was naturally attracted to,” which, following the development of Laura’s photographs, began to set the tone of the photo series: humorous and, ultimately, human.


Callum Su: The Reset (Copyright © Callum Su, 2024)


Callum Su: The Reset (Copyright © Callum Su, 2024)

In keeping with Laura’s style, championing the curious and unexpected of the everyday, her approach to capturing the theatre’s reset hours perfectly integrated with the oddity of its practicality. “I liked these fleeting and accidental placing of props after shows,” Laura details, “so, I decided to capture the series across all three theatres, shooting like I did on the recce with on-camera flash, as I loved the snapshot feel and capturing the chaos of fleeting moments.” Meanwhile, Callum opted for a more direct, stage light setup. “I wanted the pictures to feel nostalgic, like they were made in a theatre in the 60s,” he explains, in doing so, “highlighting the subjects and bringing them to focus like how it would in a theatre show,” turning towards a more theatrical approach, akin to Max’s, albeit with less overt a presence.

“A lot of my work involves getting close to my subjects, spending a long time with them and often photographing them in their homes,” Max recalls, drawn to the unique closeness a photographer is afforded. “However, a different approach felt necessary for this shoot. Something felt important about maintaining a certain distance from the subject, capturing them lost in a moment without interference,” acting almost like a nature documentary cameraman. “During this first visit, I was really taken by the image of the individuals silhouetted backstage,” he tells us, “whilst some were focused and poised, anticipating their cue, others waited patiently,” with everyone being gently illuminated by the spill of light through curtains. “This is what I wanted to capture.”

GalleryLaura McCluskey: The Reset (Copyright © Laura McCluskey, 2024)

GalleryLaura McCluskey: The Reset (Copyright © Laura McCluskey, 2024)

Going in with these spectacular expectations of theatre, drama, space and sound are what we, as audience members, expect, but the reality, as Laura, Max and Callum clarify, is an entirely different thing. Surprised, Max recounts the unforeseen lack of space amongst the theatre’s labyrinths, meanwhile, Max explains how the whole experience was a surprise to him. “I really didn’t know what to expect – there were a lot of people working on the shows, in many different roles, in order to make everything happen,” he details. “The stage management felt very tightly organised and precise, and the whole thing felt like a well-oiled machine.”

“I didn’t go to drama school which I thought would be a disadvantage, but I have been lucky to work with and learn from some brilliant stage managers.”

Emily Porter, deputy stage manager

“I was surprised by the humour in these objects,” Laura adds. “I liked the challenge of working in a different way like this, seeking out these moments in dark corners.” Likewise, Callum was drawn to the distinctive experience of being exactly where he was. “Being able to go below the stage and watch the whole thing move up and down during rehearsals was so incredible,” Callum says, “especially as we had just met Daniel who operates the stage and he had explained how everything works,” even explaining how the stage is more accurately moved by hand than by a computer.


Max Miechowski: The Reset (Copyright © Max Miechowski, 2024)

“I love being involved in the process of putting together a show and being able to achieve a creative team's vision on stage. It is not all glamorous. More often than not, we are running around in the rehearsal room!”

Wen-Hsin Chiang, assistant stage manager

“My perspective definitely has changed,” Callum continues, looking back on the process as a whole. “I will think more about the different roles that bring together all aspects,” he says, be it lighting, automation and everything in between. “There are so many roles and so many tests and checks that have to be done in order to make the show what it is,” he explains, “and it was really amazing seeing the show after we shot the project.” The photographers left truly appreciating the work in an entirely new context, with a renewed view on the theatre. Discussing as much, Laura recalls the change in her preconceptions when first starting the project. “I kept finding notes, on the walls, handwritten on masking tape, inside laundry baskets, I felt there was a real sense of fun and community backstage,” she concludes. “I enjoyed discovering the playfulness backstage, like a play behind the play.”

The Reset: Three Hours, Three Photographers, Three Theatres is free to see at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton Lounge from 27 June.

Want to see the full exhibition?

Explore at The National Theatre’s Lyttelton Lounge from 27 June.

Plan your visit here

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Callum Su: The Reset (Copyright © Callum Su, 2024)

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