Sean Kenny
Born23 December 1929
Died11 June 1973 (aged 43)
London, UK
OccupationScenic, costume and lighting designer (theatre and film)
Spouse(s)Jan Walker
(m. 19??; div. 19??)
(m. 1966; div. 1969)
Partner(s)Judy Geeson (1969–1973)
Awards1963 Tony Award
Best Scenic Designer for the New York production of Oliver!

Sean Kenny (23 December 1929 – 11 June 1973)[1] was an Irish theatre and film scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer and director.

Kenny was the set designer for the musicals of Lionel Bart including Oliver!, Lock Up Your Daughters and Blitz!.


Kenny was born in Portroe, County Tipperary, Ireland in 1929. While he was an architecture student, aged 20, Kenny and three others sailed from Ireland to New York in a 36-foot sailboat, the Ituna, in 1950.[2]

Kenny was a contributor to The Establishment, a standup satire and jazz club in London founded by Peter Cook and Nicholas Luard.[3] In the 1960s, after the workday, Kenny and his staff often made the short trip of a few steps across Manette Street from his design studio into the back door of The Pillars of Hercules.

In 1966, Kenny married model Judy Huxtable. She later described him as "regularly unfaithful", and left him to marry Peter Cook.[citation needed]

Following his divorce, Kenny lived with the actress Judy Geeson until his sudden death from a heart attack and brain haemorrhage at the age of 43. In Stoned by Andrew Loog Oldham, Oldham pays tribute to Kenny as one of the brilliant and original minds working in London theatre in the 1960s, particularly for his work on Lionel Bart's musicals Oliver! and Lock Up Your Daughters.[4]

In Stoned, Kenny's partner Judy Geeson pays this tribute to him: "Sean had an unusual combination of abilities: he had the creativity to dream up a design. But he also had a brilliant engineer's brain so he didn't only dream it, he knew how to make it."[5]

Design style

Kenny collaborated with the author and director to make the scenery contribute so significantly to the production that the scenery became a character in the play. Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh wrote about Kenny's designs for Oliver!: "A lot of the original 1960 production had been written during rehearsal to accompany the working of Sean Kenny's set, as Oliver! has an episodic story that requires quick and varied changes of locale."[6]

Peter Roberts wrote in Plays and Players about Kenny's design for the inaugural production of Hamlet for the National Theatre at The Old Vic theatre in 1963: "The scenic shorthand of Sean Kenny's revolving set has all the vigour and unfussy force of O'Toole's performance in the title role...From a practical point of view it enables the director to deploy his cast three-dimensionally, in height as well as across the stage and enables scene changes to be effected rapidly and practically." December 1963.[7]

For each production, Kenny invented what he called a "frame", as in framework or scaffold or skeleton. For productions with small budgets, the frame would be stationary and for productions with large budgets the frame would be dynamic, moving. In Oliver! the frame consisted of multi-level scaffolding built on a rotating turntable and two rotating side wagons, properly called ring fragments, that followed the curve of the turntable. In Pickwick, the frame was four multi-level scaffolds on wagons that could move in any direction, like four rolling houses. For Blitz! the frame was four multi-level scaffolds on rolling wagons and two towers that rolled up and down stage, connected by a bridge that raised and lowered while the towers were moving. In each production this frame provided the different spaces, entrances, levels and playing areas needed by the script and by the action.[8]

"... his influence on British stage design is incalculable. His imagination in the high tech use of modern theatrical technology, paved the way for all the British musical extravaganza which followed."[9]


Incomplete list:



  1. ^ "Sean Kenny, Designer, 43, Dies; Set for 'Oliver!' Won '63 Tony". The New York Times. 12 June 1973.
  2. ^ "Inland Waterways News" (PDF).
  3. ^ "Portrait - National Portrait Gallery".
  4. ^ Stoned, Andrew Loog Oldham, Secker & Warburg, 2000, pp. 314-317
  5. ^ Stoned, Andrew Loog Oldham, Secker & Warburg, 2000, p. 314
  6. ^ "All About Jewish Theatre – Impresario Cameron Mackintosh: How I got Mr Bean to play Fagin" at
  7. ^ "Hamlet, Olivier/Kenny, National Theatre, October 1963".
  8. ^ "Sean Kenny (Theatre designer)". Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  9. ^ Clive Barnes review of Oliver!, New York Post, January 8, 1963
  10. ^ a b "Cock-a-Doodle Dandy, Royal Court Theatre" (PDF).
  11. ^ "Old photos, Mermaid Theatre".
  12. ^ Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archive
  13. ^ Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archive
  14. ^ Internet Broadway Data Base
  15. ^ "Royal Opera House Collections Online".
  16. ^ Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archive
  17. ^ "Technical photographs in the archive collection, Royal National Theatre".
  18. ^ "Stop the World: I Want to Get Off (1966)". IMDb.
  19. ^ "Royal Opera House Collections Online".
  20. ^ "Expo 67 - The construction of the Gyrotron".
  21. ^ The King of Friday's Men (1973) Abbey Theatre/Amharclann na Mainistreach archives
  22. ^ "Gropius' design for Total Theater - Hekman Digital Archive".
  23. ^ "Search Past Tony Awards Winners and Nominees".
  24. ^ Oliver! profile at IBDb
  25. ^ The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd profile at IBDb