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James Whiteside Lights Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful at Found111 Supported by PRG XL Video
UK - Theatre has never been so publicly scrutinised as it is now. In addition to the affluence of established media churning out their highly appreciated, yet often calculable verdicts on new productions, an increasing amount of veracious and rough-hewn opinion is provided through the scores of bloggers, reviewers and social media commentators. A curious scan through internet searches for Found111’s latest production of Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful yield little other than ringing endorsements and glowing reports for the latest project undertaken by daredevil producer, Emily Dobbs.
“Found111 is a stifling venue atop a building in central London. Up stark stairways, twisting round a clunky metal lift, the audience is cramped closely around the central stage – a bed and a mirror – in the August heat. The setting is aptly suited to Unfaithful,” muses blogger Sarah Tinsley on the website Carn’s Theatre Passion.
Emily Dobbs brings together director Adam Penford, lighting designer James Whiteside, set designer Richard Kent and Found111’s regular composer and sound designer Edward Lewis, who between them set the framework within which the cast will perform for 70 tense and periodically explosive minutes. Niamh Cusack and Sean Campion play the older of two couples alongside Matthew Lewis and Ruta Gedmintas who we are led to believe may, or may not, have been unfaithful to one another during two separate yet interconnected episodes. The story progresses with a rollicking pace, during which the audience is stock still, too meek to move until the stifling silence is broken by a darkly humorous comment mid-argument which allows enough respite to shuffle back into comfort before we continue our voyeuristic journey into the relationship of two couples.
Carol Woodis tweeted: “Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful at pop up Found111 ****, rich, beautiful, adult play. Sex as an existential crisis.” She then goes on to blog on her site Woodis Reviews: “…in Found111’s intense intimacy, Adam Penford’s bed and mirror dominated production elicits laughter, pathos, frissons of shock and ultimately enormous sympathy.” Unfaithful is not a play which completes itself, the audience exits into the early autumn evening unsure of their own conclusions; the sentiment of which is a common thread amongst reviewers of professional and amateur status alike. “Both couples' lives became entwined with each other’s various deceits, no one left blameless, yet none without some excuse for what they have done, or claim to have done. Much of the delight comes from McCafferty’s superb dialogue and the exquisite comic timing of the excellent cast,” writes Paul Ciara of the Peg Review.
James Whiteside explained his approach to lighting Unfaithful: “The first thing I did was read the play. I’ve lit an Owen McCafferty play before, so I knew his style of writing and what to expect. McCafferty uses a very naturalistic dialogue – unpolished, almost poetic with very little punctuation. Once I was familiar with the play, I met with Adam (director) and Richard (set designer) and we discussed ideas. The story and space made it very clear that both the lighting and set would need to be simple and uncomplicated. The concept of using banks of light, focused straight, became of great interest because it was one of only a few practical options. Richard worked my idea for lighting into the model of his set to see how it would feel; from what we learnt by doing that, we adjusted the size of the ceiling space to fit the lights in around it. Doing this during pre-production, on a model, was beneficial over making the decision once we’d actually built the set, which would have cost us a lot more money and time.”
Lighting a play in the intimate confines of Found111 is no easy task, as James explained: “It’s important that in a space like Found111 the lights are integral to the design. The lighting is always visible, there is no way of hiding it so it has to be part of the overall environment. For this production, it was agreed between the whole creative team that the lighting was not to be a big event, it would only be noticed because of its simplicity. All the action takes place under white light, colour is only used during scene changes, which we stylised to stand out from the main scenes, but still need to be lit because you can’t move set in the dark. All the light is projected in straight blocks of lighting down each side and on either end. There was no space for overhead lighting or the typical forty-five degree angles I would usually use in theatre, so the only way to respond to the space was to go straight in architecturally.
“A line of tightly spaced birdies down each side, and a similar line of ETC Source Four pars at either end washed the stage with four even walls of light. At the far end of the room, set back from the stage were a row of six GLP Volkslicht LED wash lights which I chose for their rich, saturated colours, needed for the scene changes.
“Myself and production electrician Adam Squire selected the lighting fixtures fixtures not only because of the effect they produce, but also due to their low power consumption. In Found111 we only have two phases of a 32A/3 power supply for lighting. I have a debt of gratitude to Adam for doing a superb job on Unfaithful, not least for balancing the power perfectly across the two phases, whilst still making sure we had enough power to run all the lights.”
James went on to explain that he was using 36 ways of dimming via a Pulsar Rack Pak dimmer and his console of choice was an ETC Ion, programmed on site by James, and operated during the show by deputy stage manager Tamsin Withers. James commented: “It’s quite common on smaller theatre productions for the lighting to be operated by a DSM, I programmed with this in mind, so activating each scene is very simple and follows a numerical cue list.”
Producer Emily Dobbs, the driving force behind Found111 is quickly developing a reputation for being an uninhibited maestro at assembling a highly creative team and giving them the freedom to do what they do best. Discussing the build-up to opening Unfaithful, James said: “Adam had the actors in rehearsals for three weeks before we went to preview, most of that time was spent rehearsing in the actual space they would be performing in for the show; which considering the unique environment of Found111 was a huge benefit. It’s evident when you see the play how the actors connect not only with each other, but also the environment within which they’re performing.”
Discussing her decision to stage Unfaithful at Found111, Emily said: “Owen’s writing is fresh, dynamic and fearless and penetrates the heart of his characters. FOUND111 has developed a reputation for work which gives the audience a visceral experience and is very much actor-led and Unfaithful therefore felt very fitting for the intimate space here.”
Unfaithful was the first project on which Emily had worked with James Whiteside: “James created an incredibly powerful lighting aesthetic which utilised the venue's idiosyncrasies to achieve something both stark and illuminating. The idea of magnifying the actors under an edging of spotlights was bold and inventive. The combination of the set and lighting design was used to highlight the idea that the audience feel as if they were voyeurs on these very intimate and personal scenes. James' lighting design wonderfully enhanced both the play and the performances.”
When asked about the wider creative team she has worked with at Found111, Emily said: “For all of our productions at Found111 we have worked with creatives who are at the top of their game. Everyone involved, from the team on The Dazzle through to Bug and Unfaithful, were all exceptionally talented and incredibly bold with their visions.”
Account manager John Pauls, handled the project for PRG XL Video and described the show as: “…powerful theatre that certainly didn’t pull any punches. Supporting Found 111, we are at the cutting edge of contemporary theatre. The limited space is a challenge for all involved, the actors, the designers and it’s up to us to come up with workable solutions. Working with Emily Dobbs means we know that we will be working on a critically acclaimed show.” John added: “James Whiteside and Adam Squire were both a real pleasure to work with, no fuss or drama, excellent people to work with. I look forward to continued success working with the team at Found111.”
Unfaithful runs at Found111 until 8th October.
photo: Marc Brenner
3rd October 2016
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