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White Light Takes a Trip to the West End with Shirley Valentine
UK – First performed in 1986, Willy Russell’s classic one-woman show, Shirley Valentine, is the joyous, life-affirming story of a person who got lost in marriage and motherhood but who has a secret dream, as well as an airline ticket to Greece. The show has recently been revived at the Duke of York’s Theatre in a brand-new production directed by Matthew Dunster and starring Olivier Award and BAFTA winning Sheridan Smith. The lighting designer is Lucy Carter who approached White Light to supply her lighting rig.
This production of Shirley Valentine marks its first West End revival since its original run in 1988, which then subsequently transferred to Broadway. Discussing the play, Lucy explains: “Throughout the entire show, there are only two locations, Shirley’s kitchen and a beach in Greece. These are obviously very different so it was down to myself and Paul Wills, the set and costume designer, to create designs that could deliver both of them convincingly. The beach in Greece represents Shirley’s freedom from her mundane existence at home and the possibilities of what her life could hold if she broke free from this. Matthew, the director, and Paul imagined this in a more abstract and subliminal world as opposed to a totally naturalistic environment.”
She continues: “They saw the large blue skies of Greece as the key to this sense of possibility and therefore a large, curved cyclorama became the main element of my design for the second part of the show. I was given the task of expressing these subliminal and evocative worlds through light, as well as ensuring that throughout, Sheridan was unquestionably placed at the forefront of the worlds in which she existed.”
As a designer, Lucy likes to attend as many rehearsals as possible; something she believes helps influence her design. She explains: “Seeing the actual reality of a performer in the space and their emotional response inspires me continuously and pushes me in different directions. The kitchen environment in the first half demanded less emotional intensification from the lighting, but the beach in Greece and its more representative physical set elements, meant that I was creating lighting environments that were responsive and supportive of Sheridan’s emotional fluctuations within the story. Naturally these were developing continuously during rehearsals and my design responded as such.”
Knowing what she needed to achieve, Lucy then approached the team at WL to supply her lighting fixtures. She explains: “My main challenge was how to light the cyc, which was a complex curve and actually got tighter as it reached stage left. The cyc was nine metres high and I managed to negotiate a continuous distance of two metres for the lighting behind. Despite having lit many, many cycloramas in my lighting designs for dance, I wasn’t confident that just one fixture would be the best overall, so I gave myself options and consciously chose three different types of fixture. For the top of the cyc, I chose ColourForce units; for the bottom for a ground row I chose the Robert Juliat Dalis and then I had a mid-row of GLP X4 Bars because I wanted to create a moving sunset effect and pixel map out from the middle to create a sense of emotionally expanding worlds. The Dalis created a lovely diffuse and even bottom-up wash which extended all the way up the nine metres. The ColorForce added a great, bright intense top to the sky and the X4s worked brilliantly to create a mid-horizon line that could slowly drop lower down the cyc to sunset. They also open out in a wave from centre at a particular moment in the play when Shirley steps outside into the evening and the world opens up before her.”
She adds: “With some of my rig on curved lighting bars and some on bars angled to the kitchen walls, I needed flexible moving light units to service both acts. I used cold Encores for the main light sources inside the kitchen and for the general cover of the beach which gave me much needed flexibility. I also used MAC Aura XBs to add low fill from the sides of the auditorium because Sheridan utilised the whole space and would often stand very far forward when delivering her performance directly to the audience, hence I needed face fill right up to and against the proscenium.”
Shirley Valentine has now opened to rave reviews and has already announced a three-week extension, running until 3rd June 2023.
Lucy concludes: “For a play that is seemingly simple, with one performer addressing the audience for the duration, it did provide a lot of challenges! Not just technically, but also creatively in the marrying up between constructing a believable reality in lighting environments as well as enforcing the emotional context for the play. It was a tricky balance to strike but one I believe we did and I’m delighted by the response we’ve received from audiences and critics alike.”
photos: John Wilson
31st March 2023
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