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October 5, 2023

Adelaide’s designer of the moment: Jonathon Oxlade

Award-winning designer Jonathon Oxlade sat down with CityMag to talk about creating imaginative worlds for all ages in theatre and television.

  • Words: Helen Karakulak
  • Pictures: Thomas McCammon

There’s always been puppetry in Jonathon Oxlade’s life.

He’s a creator who has always made things himself, sticking things together, playing with sculptural ideas and being very visual. A creative practice he says lends itself very well to live performance and television.


Jonathon Oxlade
For more information, head to Jonathon’s website.


So, it’s no surprise he’s the man of the moment in Adelaide’s Festival Centre, with his designs in current shows Dictionary of Lost Words and Hiccup.

While the two shows vary in themes and target audiences, they both use visual storytelling techniques drawn from Jonathon’s background of illustration and sculpture that transcend the age of the audience.

“There’s a playfulness that I get excited about when I’m making work for adults and children,” Jonathon says.

Jonathon’s Hiccup design. This picture: supplied.


Hiccup is a family comedy currently occupying the Space Theatre that follows three unlikely friends that go on a psychedelic search through the Australian outback for the great hiccup cure. It’s a fast-moving show that Jonathon describes as verbose, like a party and “manic in a good way”.

“I think it’s important to show [children] that there’s different ways to see…you know, a koalacan be blue, or an emu can be pink, that transformation, I think, is what spurs on creativity.”

Jonathon sees creating these whimsical kids and family shows as innate to him.

“I end up coming back to it. I’ll get asked to do it again and it became part of my toolkit,” he says.

“I think young people understand the real world in a sophisticated way, and I think that what’s wonderful about them too is that their imaginative world is just as rich.”


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Jonathon has worked on Hiccup as resident designer at Windmill Theatre Company, which also has a TV production arm that creates Beep & Mort. Beep is a robot, and Mort is a resident of Mollyvale. The two are best friends who solve daily dilemmas in a show that uses hybrid puppetry, post-animation and textured, 3D designs.

Jonathon recently won an Australian Production Design Guild award for his work on Beep & Mort. While he says both theatre and television “have their magic, they can be liberating in different ways”.

“In television…technically the making of physical things is a lot more liberating because you don’t have the constraints of the theatre,” he says.

Beep & Mort was created for television by Rosemary Myers and Kaye Weeks. It was conceived here in Adelaide and is designed and filmed here too. As the production and character designer, Jonathon is involved in every step of the process from the writer’s room to building on-set mechanics to designing graphics.

“We spend a few days making up little scenarios and things that I think would be beautiful, basically,” he says.

“We all just jam ideas together, it could be ‘I’d like to see a port this season and boats and sea monsters would be cool’. Then, I could make a lighthouse that would be really beautiful.”

Dictionary of Lost Words State Theatre Company. This picture: supplied.


Jonathon’s based in Adelaide, but his next stop is part of the Dictionary of Lost Words tour to Sydney to make sure the panoramic set fits well in the drama theatre of the Sydney Opera House.

Jonathon worked with the director, Jessica Arthur, to show what they believed the book felt like. With that goal, they’ve created a set sure to make even the most stubborn readers choke on the phrase “the book was better”.

“We wanted to show the detail that goes into handwriting and the ephemera that goes with that, so envelopes and books and the close-up nature of it, the smell of it, the kind of twine,” Jonathon says.

“[The book] is so detailed and it’s sort of aches to be told in a way that isn’t, I thought, too now but also has a contemporary edge rather than feeling stuffy.”

This picture: Thomas McCammon.


Jonathon finds that, as a designer, it’s good to do different types of work and not shy away from a challenge. In his own career, he’s found his own passion and joy always seeps through in the work, and over time he’s gotten wise with his choices.

“As a theatre maker, your voice is probably more present sometimes then just doing the pictures,” Jonathon says.

“There’s things I get offered where I go, ‘I don’t think that cop shop Channel Seven show is going to bring me any joy, it will bring someone else’s great deal of joy’.

“I suppose that’s the thing, understanding to sit inside it as a maker rather than just a designer.

“Obviously, you do your best work when you get to play in the right sort of sandpit.”

Hiccup is playing at the Space Theatre until October 7.

Dictionary of Lost Words is playing at the Dunstan Playhouse until October 14.

Connect with Jonathon on Instagram for more, or head to the website.

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