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White Light is Part of the Family for Uncle Vanya
UK – White Light has supplied the lighting equipment for Uncle Vanya which has opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End.
Written by Anton Checkov, Uncle Vanya is possibly one of theatre’s most iconic plays, with thousands of productions since its Moscow premiere in 1899. This latest production has been directed by Ian Rickson and features a lighting design by Bruno Poet. Bruno comments: “What’s great about this translation is that it doesn’t reinvent the original but actually gives it a modern edge, using contemporary and accessible language which makes it moving, clear and very funny. Whilst it is set in the 19th century, the themes feel completely relevant to today.”
Bruno’s brief on the show was to move the story forward and support the character’s emotional journeys. He explains: “The script calls for a sense of the time of day, and the weather. We start in summer sunshine, move to a hot, but stormy night, then enter an autumnal afternoon that slowly travels through sunset to dusk and night time. The production all happens in the same space, so the lighting needed to give each act a distinctive feel while belonging within Rae Smith’s elegant design. Although we are guided by the script, Ian and I wanted the feel to be bold and expressionistic, sculpting the air and supporting the focus of the performers; with all the characters trapped in the misery of loneliness and unrequited love.”
As such, Bruno started designing his rig and choosing the fixtures that would be most suitable. He comments: “I knew I wanted tungsten light through the big windows that make up most of the stage right wall. I needed the rich warms across the wooden floor, and the beautiful colour shift as the lights fade. I wanted the flexibility of a few moving lights to allow me to put specials wherever I needed to frame and focus the storytelling. Also, I had to have an incredibly quiet rig. Ian warned me that he is obsessed with eliminating even the smallest fan noise, and rightly so. The delicacy and intimacy of the spoken word, powerfully supported by Stephen Warbeck’s music and Ian Dickinson’s sound design, should not be destroyed by the background hum of fans.”
Bruno approached the hire team at WL to acquire the fixtures he needed. He explains: “The main feel of the play is driven by 24 parcans with scrollers outside the SR window. These gave me the bold directional light source I wanted. These are balanced with an area cover of ETC Source Four Series 2 Lustrs from front of house. I had four Martin MAC TW1s overhead for specials and four Martin MAC Encore Performances front of house for the same. Offstage of the SR window, Rae designed a forest that slowly grows into the house. This was lit by four Aytron Ghiblis, chosen for their punch and wide angle (and quietness). The Ghiblis gave me the ability to show single shadow moonlight through the windows, compared to the pars that were a softer more expressionist source. A bunch of candles, lit by the cast and some tungsten practicals delivered the contrast in the night-time scenes. More Ghiblis high in the USR and USL corners gave me cold directional light for the night-time scenes. A very light haze was provided by an MDG Atmosphere just to give a sense of dust hanging in the air.”
As always with shows like this, Bruno’s design had to alter slightly during the rehearsal and preview period. He explains: “Ensuring the rig stayed quiet was quite hard and we had to experiment with how low we could turn down the scroller fans before we melted the gel strings. Thankfully, we found a level where they could not be heard and where the gel survives. We also had to work out where to place the foliage outside the windows without it impeding the shots of the parcans. One morning the crew looked more like gardeners than technicians!”
Uncle Vanya has now opened to rave reviews, receiving five stars in The Guardian, WhatsOnStage and The I. It runs until 2nd May 2020.
Bruno comments: “I really enjoyed lighting such a delicate and nuanced play. Having recently worked on a lot of musicals, concerts and operas, this was a big (but welcomed) contrast. There was a fantastic team on this show: everyone from the cast, creatives, stage management and the team at the Pinter, and so it was an absolute joy to work together and carefully build our version of Checkov’s story. I’d like to say particular thanks to Warren Letton, my associate and programmer for the show who was a huge support. Also, a big thanks to WL for supplying the equipment I needed.”
photos: Johan Persson
20th February 2020
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