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White Light Goes [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse
UK – [BLANK] is a theatrical provocation which marks 40 years of Clean Break, a theatre company that works with women affected by the criminal justice system. Featuring over 100 unnamed scenes, [BLANK] sees the director Maria Aberg choose 30 of these in order to create a unique production. Featuring an all-female cast and creative team, the show has a lighting design by Jess Bernberg. Jess comments: “After attending meetings with Maria and Rosie Elnile (set designer), we came to the decision to keep the aesthetic quite open. Whilst part of Rosie’s inspiration for the set was mother and baby units in women’s prison, we didn’t want to create any literal space, instead choosing practical lights to break up the space and adding a sense of uniformity to the lighting design.”
With the production being such a unique construct, the layout was a factor Jess had to consider with her design. She explains: “We felt strongly the piece shouldn’t have an interval, so that it would deliver one strong theatrical punch. Maria had carefully arranged the scenes to achieve subtle narrative arcs that can be inferred by an audience but aren't necessarily concrete, leaving it up to the audience to decide and hinting at the universality of the situations. We actually discovered that the scenes fell into blocks which had distinct feelings, rather than each scene having a ‘location’.”
Jess adds: “The first nine scenes felt stark and closed in, almost non-theatrical. A large-scene change then brings us into a new world with the full company of women on stage. Following this is the longest scene in the play, a 45 minute, meticulously-choreographed satirical dinner party. This felt like it needed a completely new feel as we enter into a world of relative luxury, Labneh and flatbreads. All the women you had seen before were on stage, some portraying characters completely different from what we had seen before. Maria and I had talked about 'Caravaggioesque' warmth and sculpting, but felt, in the space, this became too dreamlike and needed a sense of grounding and harsh reality.”
To achieve all of these very specific looks, Jess approached WL who have supplied a range of her shows this year, including Out of Water (Orange Tree), And the Rest of Me Floats (Bush Theatre) and The Crucible (The Yard). Jess explains: “Most of the rig was Aryton Ghiblis and ETC Lustr 2s, as well as CP61 parcans forming a toplight grid. The Ghiblis are wonderful moving lights, super quiet in terms of ambient noise which is very important for a space like the Donmar where audiences are just metres away from the units and there were many quiet, delicate scenes that can’t be disturbed with rig hum. Their framing shutters can do a full swipe across the beam which came in very handy for an effect recreating an alarm beacon created by my wonderful programmer Elliot Smith.”
Jess used the Lustrs as a six part pipe end stage wash, and versatile crosslight on the upper level of the set where a projection screen position needed to be taken into account.
This was the first time that Jess has worked at the Donmar Warehouse. She explains: “The Donmar space acts as almost in the round due to the deep, wide thrust. This means crosslight in the space is quite a specific focus, and acting right up next to audience on a raised stage means facelight while playing upstage can be tough; especially when vomitorium sightlines aren’t what they seem. The space is actually a lot smaller than it feels, meaning tungsten units can happily sit at 30% to adequately light a scene, or take heavy gel. The in house profiles in the space are unusually 575W lamps instead of 750W for this very reason.”
[BLANK] opened to rave reviews and played to sell out audiences before its run came to an end last weekend.
Jess concludes: “I’m extremely proud to have worked on such an important production with a theatre company that creates brilliant work and genuinely leaves a long-lasting impact with all of the women it works with. I’d like to thank the brilliant in-house team, all of the other creatives along with WL for once again supplying me with the fixtures I needed.”
photos: Helen Maybanks
4th December 2019
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