Listed in order, just scroll down to find them – It’s a Wonderful Life / The York Realist / Four Short Plays / Hangmen / Frankenstein / Unsanctioned/Measure2Measure / The Herd / The Lieutenant of Inishmore
It’s a Wonderful Life
This is the key moment from our December production at NVT. I’m sure you know the story, and here George Bailey (on the left) is standing on a bridge and has just heard the cries of Clarence, an Angel sent to save him from his threatened suicide.
Gerry McCrudden directed ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ as a 1940s radio play, broadcast from a New York studio, with all the actors present and stepping up to the microphones to deliver their lines.
As a radio production, there were sound effects too. A ‘Foley’ operator created the door and car noises, for example. There was even a machine that produced a gusting wind sound from a length of canvas.
George Bailey’s ‘Business & Loan’ company is threatened with bankruptcy, which is why George is suicidal, and his anguish is heard in Heaven, where they decide to send Clarence to save him. My lighting had to distinguish between moments Above, and more conventional illumination for the Earthly scenes taking place in Bedford Falls.
As it was a commercial radio production, there were advertisements too. I was almost persuaded to smoke ‘Dude’ cigarettes …
and take liver pills, to avoid indigestion …
Although all the action takes place in the radio studio, we had lots of different lighting states to bring out the emotional range and location of the characters.
The York Realist
A different kind of challenge at NVT in November, for ‘The York Realist’. Peter Gill’s play takes place in a Yorkshire farmhouse, at various times of the year.
My lighting had to evoke the cold light of an autumn morning, as well as the warm tones of a June evening.
As well as those, some scenes took place at night, with the actors illuminated (seemingly) by only a standard lamp.
It’s a love story, between George, a farmer living with his mother on the fairly isolated farm, and John, an assistant theatre director who’s come to York to work on a production of the York Mystery Plays. Various members of George’s family complete the ensemble.
It’s a love story, as I said, but it’s also about the divisions of class, and ‘belonging’ to a particular environment. After George’s mother dies, he’s potentially free to move away and live with his lover – but finally the farmer is unable to leave the place where he feels comfortable, and at the play’s end he sits alone …
Four Short Plays
An interesting challenge with New Venture’s October production – four short plays: each one very different. My lighting design had to work for all four.
Harold Pinter’s ‘A Kind Of Alaska’ takes place in a room – possibly in a hospital – where a woman has just woken after being in a coma for twenty-nine years.
She doesn’t recognise her sister – ” How did you get to look so old ? ” – and of course she still feels like the fifteen-year-old that she remembers being. Chilling.
‘How He Lied To Her Husband‘, by George Bernard Shaw, couldn’t be more different.
A ‘drawing room comedy’ that literally takes place in a drawing room.
A young poet has sent a set of love poems to Aurora, the wife of a wealthy businessman. She’s mislaid them and now her husband has been shown the verses.
The poet tries to deny that Aurora was the subject of the work, and that he has no romantic feelings for her. But finally, her husband is simply flattered that his wife is regarded as so beautiful.
We used the entire stage for the first two plays, with the black-painted sides and back acting as a domestic setting that the audience had to visualise for themselves …
… but for Martin Crimp’s linked pair of plays we shrank the acting – and lighting – space down to a couple of central areas. Slanting evening sunlight for a picnic in an outdoor location in ‘Face To The Wall’
followed by much tighter lighting on a row of cinema seats in ‘Fewer Emergencies’.
The three characters seem to be discussing the writing of a screenplay based on school shootings in America. At the conclusion, the dialogue gets very dark indeed, and the lighting had to follow …
For the final play we didn’t suggest locations, but simply used the complete stage as a stage, where a spot-lit lecturer gives a talk on ‘The Evils Of Tobacco’.
In Anton Chekhov’s comedy, though, the hen-pecked lecturer spends most of his time complaining about his wife.
Not at all what the lecture audience was expecting – as he wanders surreally off-topic to take in everything from the death of flies, to his daughters’ inability to find partners. A one-man tour de force from the wonderful John Tolputt.
That’s Mooney on the left, putting the wind up Syd. Syd was a (not terribly effective) hangman’s assistant, second in command to Harry Wade; but they’ve both retired, with the end of capital punishment in the UK. Harry ‘keeps his own counsel’ about the details of his executions, though now he’s given an interview to a reporter from the local paper.
We did Martin McDonagh’s ‘Hangmen’ as New Venture’s April production. A challenging one to light, as Director Pat Boxall’s design concept extended from Harry’s Oldham pub to a café in the High Street, and the prison where, two years earlier, James Hennessy had been hanged for murder.
Most of the play’s action takes place in the pub, which extended right across the stage of our Upstairs Theatre. My lighting had to illuminate scenes at night, and also some with the addition of daylight.
Mooney’s a mysterious stranger who arrives at the pub. He’s menacing, and sexually predatory towards Harry Wade’s daughter Shirley. He reminded me of Joe Orton’s ‘Mr Sloane’.
Similarly, the three old regulars made me think of ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’. What a bizarre concoction …
At the end, we’re given a ‘cameo’ appearance by Albert Pierrepoint, who was a real-life hangman, along with Harry Wade.
It’s a confusing play, with lots of unexplained details – just who is Mooney, what does he want, and what’s his connection with James Hennessy?
Just before he was hanged, Hennessy promised to – “come back to whatever northern shithole you live in and I will haunt you.” My own feeling is that Mooney is the ghost of Hennessy, carrying out his threat to put fear, confusion and guilt into the minds of the two hangmen. He seems to have abducted Shirley, and as a result of her father’s revenge he ends up being hanged inside the pub itself. By accident?, by intention? – we aren’t told.
Frankenstein is not the monster, of course – although as the play develops we come to understand that actually, Frankenstein is the monster …
” All I ever wanted was your love …”
Frankenstein the scientist has built a creature, and brought him to life, but he abandons his creation, and all the people the Creature meets are horrified by his appearance and abuse him. Only the blind Professor helps him, teaching him to speak and to read, but the man’s children share society’s revulsion and drive him away once again.
The Creature becomes embittered, and takes a terrible revenge on the family.
The Wick Theatre Company’s production of ‘Frankenstein’ used Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelly’s classic tale. It was their March production, which made for a busy month for me after the New Venture production a week or so earlier.
Great to be working again with Director Diane Robinson and the very friendly team at The Barn Theatre – I’ve lit ‘Brief Encounter’ for Diane in this space back in 2017, as well as Dan Dryer’s production of ‘Thérèse Raquin’ in 2018. Dan appeared in ‘Frankenstein’ as several characters: here he’s leading the Ingolstadt revellers in one of the ensemble movement sections.
Lighting ‘Frankenstein’ was a wonderful experience. The action moves from the industrial town of Ingolstadt to the scientist’s home in Geneva, and to a croft in the outer Hebrides before the final slog through the icy wastes of the Artic. I was able to use so much colour – my lighting had to enhance Judith Berrill’s amazing set designs: indoors, outdoors in bright daylight or, like here, at night, where they are searching the shore of Lake Geneva for Frankenstein’s young brother.
Judith designed and created the projections that did so much to set the location of each scene. She also produced the illustrated side panels – suggestive of pages from Frankenstein’s research journal.
The Creature desires a mate, naturally, and Frankenstein builds a female Creature, only to destroy her as he’s terrified of the consequences of the Creatures producing offspring of their own.
Once again, Frankenstein had to source his materials from graveyards – it was an interesting challenge to use as little illumination as possible.
In revenge for the destruction of his mate, the Creature murders Frankenstein’s bride, Elizabeth, on her wedding night. The scientist’s father is horror-struck.
And the horror has almost run its course. Frankenstein is intent on destroying his creation, but the Creature has been endowed with superhuman strength and endurance. The final scenes show the scientist being led on towards the North Pole, where presumably both will meet their end.
Unsanctioned / Measure 2 Measure
A double-bill of two plays with a linking theme, for NVT’s March production.
Writer / Director Sam Chittenden paired a brand-new dystopian drama with a reworking of Shakespeare’s difficult ‘comedy’ to explore sexual politics in two radically different places and times. We used many of the same set elements in both plays, with the beds of ‘Unsanctioned’ becoming prison bars and gates in ‘Measure 2 Measure’.
Michaela Ridgeway’s set design had the first play set in some sort of underground control room, for which we had to construct a hanging roof out of polystyrene panels. My lighting had to work under this feature, increasing the sense of claustrophobia; and in the interval our hard working stage crew had to remove it, to give us the airy height of Vincento’s palace.
Unlike ‘Unsanctioned’, in ‘Measure 2v Measure’ I created small pools of light, sometimes in amongst the audience seating, where the characters could give us their thoughts and asides.
‘The Herd’, New Venture’s February production; is the story of a family, centred around a severely disabled son whose 21st birthday it is (or rather, isn’t) – but who never actually appears.
It’s a tale of three couples, three generations, and the top photo shows five out of the six cast members. Ian, on the right, is divorced from Carol (centre rear) and they are the parents of the disabled Andy (who we never see) and his sister Claire, on the left. She’s just announced that she and her partner are having a baby, and the news is shocking to her parents and to her waspish grandmother Patricia, Carol’s mother.
Claire’s grandfather Brian is the sixth cast member, and his limited mobility is one of the play’s continuing themes. Personally, I found some of Rory Kinnear’s script quite tedious (an audience member confided that it reminded her of ‘Eastenders’), but director Charly Sommers got great performances from her six actors.
Great fun to light, as always, especially as the production used the entire width of the Upstairs Theatre’s stage. There were some temporal jumps, and for these we momentarily blinded the audience with forward facing lamps, so they couldn’t see the stage crew making adjustments to the props. Like we did for ‘The Father’ back in 2019.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
This image probably best illustrates the lighting challenges in ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’, New Venture’s January production. Martin McDonagh’s play takes place over several locations, and the action needed to shift seamlessly around them. Here we can see Padraic sitting outside his father’s home while inside the men are cutting up bodies (don’t ask!). Keeping the lit areas separate meant that we could change the focus of attention (inside or outside, or both at once) just by altering the lighting state.
I had to show the INLA hit squad at evening on a country road, and also the interior of Donny’s cottage at night, where he and Davey are trying to create a replacement for Wee Thomas, Padraic’s beloved cat, who’s apparently been killed.
Padraic is a mad, sadistic terrorist, and we first meet him torturing a man in a Belfast warehouse. But when he hears that Wee Thomas “is poorly”, he’s stricken with concern for his feline friend.
There are night scenes too, where Padraic returns to his village in the Republic, and meets up with Mairead, who he hasn’t seen since she was a girl. The action is (almost) tender …
Interiors and exteriors, different times of day. A few scenes take place on another country road.
There’s loads of incredibly violent action in ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’, and director Steven O’Shea got powerful performances from his cast.
There’s romance, revenge, betrayal – and an AWFUL lot of blood . . .