Emily James trained at Edinburgh College of Art and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She was a finalist for the 1997 Linbury Prize for Stage Design, with her work exhibited at the National Theatre.
In 1998, Emily was awarded a design bursary at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre and went on to design Jess Walter’s Terracotta, directed by Marianne Elliott - a co-production for Hampstead Theatre/Birmingham Rep.
During ten subsequent years in London, her work encompassed many genres, from new writing to classic plays, musical theatre and opera.
Designs include: Playstars - Soho Theatre; Jerusalem Syndrome - Royal Exchange; Freebird - Bristol Old Vic; Cyrano de Bergerac, Bugsy Malone - Plymouth Theatre Royal; Sitting Pretty - National Tour; The Dream Train - Traverse Theatre; Peter Grimes - Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; Master Harold and the Boys, Teechers - Nuffield Theatre, Southampton; 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (costume) - Theatre Royal, Stratford East; Men do not go to War over Women - Battersea Arts Centre; The Maids - Rosemary Branch Theatre; Wild, Wild Women - Orange Tree Theatre.
Site-specific work includes two large-scale promenade productions - Grimm Tales and The Canterbury Tales - for The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster. Both took place in the Williamson Park, involving numerous complex settings within the woods. More recently, Beats per Minute was a unique, immersive, audio-visual event set inside a large Geodesic Dome in Glasgow’s George Square, which ran as part of the European Athletics Championships Festival.
Emily spent three years based in Seattle, where she had the opportunity to work with Seattle Dance Project and choreographer Ellie Sandstrom, designing Al Poco Tiempo at the Erickson Theatre.
Since returning home to Scotland in 2011, designs have included: Gagarin Way - Dundee Rep; Jury Play - Grid Iron; Factor 9 - Dogstar Theatre Tour - Scotland, Sweden and Denmark; Right Now - Traverse Theatre; Music is Torture - Tron Theatre; The Soaking of Vera Shrimp - Pleasance/ Edinburgh Festival Fringe; Jumping Puddles - Live Theatre, Newcastle.
In 2017 she designed Francis Poet’s award-winning play Adam for National Theatre of Scotland, which has since toured to London and New York.
Alongside her theatre design work, Emily has taught as a Resident Design Tutor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts Summer Design School and more recently for the Edinburgh-based Scenehouse Design Course.