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Return to the Forbidden Planet blasts around the UK on 25th Anniversary Tour

Return to the Forbidden Planet blasts around the UK on 25th Anniversary Tour
Return to the Forbidden Planet blasts around the UK on 25th Anniversary Tour

The 25th anniversary tour of Return to the Forbidden Planet is currently making its way around the UK, complete with a Flare Audio loudspeaker system, representing the first major touring musical production to deploy the recently launched X2A Compact Vertical Point Source Array system. Along with the X2, the show's system also carries Flare Audio's Q18 subs and the micro X0s for delay and front fill duties.

Flare Audio's polished aluminium speakers (also available in standard black finish), are a perfect aesthetic match to the cult musical’s 1950s sci-fi theme, and with Ben Harrison's brand new sound design, the combined effect is meteoric. He has been impressed with the X2's overall performance, explaining: "Their size and profile mean they slot easily into traditional proscenium rigging positions where other traditional line array systems would struggle to fit. They perform very well, and so far have proved to be a very efficient system, coping well with smaller houses such as Brighton Theatre Royal and much larger auditoriums like Birmingham Alex. I worked very closely with Dave Barthomeusz and Chris Headlam from Orbital, getting very strong support – as we were the first ever to be hanging the X2s weekly in different theatres, and exploring how diverse the system really is. It's very, very diverse! There is no doubt that there is something different about these speakers. It is difficult to say exactly what it is, and we are still discovering things about the X2s and their flexibility. They do sound different, perhaps in terms of the perception of volume, resulting in a surprisingly loud show that sounds fantastic. It really is fascinating to be in on Flare so early on in their evolution."

For Ben, redesigning such an iconic musical required a sensitive touch: "Initially I was nervous about redesigning a musical that so many people have heard and loved for so many years. It is performed by a cast of eleven actor musicians, playing a vast array of instruments including drums, guitars, keyboards, brass, woodwind, a theramin and even a stylophone all live and all on stage. The cast doesn't just stick to one instrument – five of them play drums over the course of the show, along with guitarists switching to brass instruments and back with ease. With so much happening on the set, a big challenge of the show is monitoring and making sure each actor can hear what they need to – the show is mixed on a Yamaha CL5 and Yamaha's iPad app meant I could get up amongst the cast during rehearsals and make changes to the foldback, whilst hearing exactly what they did from exactly where they were stood.”

The show's timetable is typically tight, following the increasingly popular touring schedule of 'one day in and up', playing weekly in each venue. For the show crew – sound number one Sam Vincent and number two Tom Meehan, this involves starting to load into the venue at 8am and opening in the evening. It's a challenging schedule that leaves very little margin for error. Sam is receiving regular compliments on the sound system – more than on any other show he has worked on, explaining: “The audience keeps asking what’s different about these new, shiny noticeably different speakers! It’s been a great experience learning how the system reacts with different set ups and challenges, the X2s are very versatile and really deliver in places where other systems might struggle. We are still experimenting with different configurations to really explore the full potential of the system. They are absolutely great for sight lines, as Mark said, and it has been really easy to negotiate positions thanks to their compact size. The audio quality is second to none – there is absolutely no compromise, and people love the sound.”

Production sound engineer, Andrew Fugle, worked closely with Ben on the specification and building of the Planet touring system, applying his extensive knowledge of the Yamaha CL5 and Dante protocol. The computer takes the entire Dante stream in via its network port and creates multitrack recordings of the show in Neuendo Live, which Ben has found to be another really useful tool, particularly when making changes to foldback after reports of ‘the bass being a bit loud DSL when the player is DSR in a particular number’: “The operators can come in during the day and simply flip the patch, play the show back up the right channels and take a listen on stage.” All of the guitars and brass instruments are on radio packs, enabling the cast to move freely around the set, and to be played mid air (during anti gravity scenes). The cast use several fixed positions for backing vocals, while lead vocals and all of the dialogue during the show is covered with three hand-held radio microphones, using a 'mic plot choreography' that has become as much a part of the show as the numbers.

For company manager Mark Shayle, the Flare Audio system is certainly living up to expectation: "Aside from the tremendous sound that the sound number one Sam wrings out of these units, you have to love the aesthetics. For our production, the deliberate decision to leave the pros boxes in all their 'shiny metal glory' really adds to the visual impact of the show. Additionally, I really appreciate the small footprint of the pros speakers, helping us in terms of sight lines and access to the stage from FOH treads used by the Company."

9th April 2015

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