Lighting design

Uncle Vanya (lighting design by Bruno Poet)
Photo credit: Johan Persson

For a while now I’ve been rather fascinated by a show’s lighting design. It’s not just there so you can see what’s going on – lighting design helps set the scene in more ways than one. It can evoke a particular emotion, create an atmosphere, and draw your eye; it can be subtle or bold, colourful or plain, traditional or high-tech. Over the past few years I’ve focused mostly on great storytellers or the more celebrated methods employed in theatre-making, so it’s about time I learned a bit more about a fundamental feature of stage work that probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Each month I’ll highlight my favourite pieces of lighting design, incorporating as wide a spectrum of venues & genres as possible, and from those try to whittle down the best of 2020. With any luck I’ll also be able to bring you the odd feature here & there, so we can learn about the lighting design process together!

Anything glows

January 2020

The Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre (14 January 2020) – Jack Knowles
Death of England, National Theatre – Dorfman (31 January 2020) – Jackie Shemesh

Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic (18 & 25 January 2020) – Malcolm Rippeth

Photo credit: Steve Tanner

As you might expect from an Emma Rice show, there is plenty of bright & beautiful colour involved (ably assisted by Lez Brotherston’s minimalist set design with its own set of neon signs). Back in 2017-18 it boldly lit up the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as much as the space allowed, but for this new tour it’s full steam ahead and no holds barred; the pink tinge that seems to radiate from the hearts as Angélique & Jean-René fall in love, the back-lighting as the factory workers peer into their boss’ office… There’s also a clever use of darkness, too, that helps zone in on the more intimate moments – such as Jean-René’s heart-to-heart with the concierge. Malcolm Rippeth never disappoints me with his lighting design, and Romantics Anonymous is another outstanding example.

February 2020

UBU! A Singalong Satire, Leeds Playhouse (7 February 2020) – Mike Gunning
Macbeth (Lazarus Theatre), Greenwich Theatre (28 February 2020) – Alex Musgrave

Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre (3 February 2020) – Bruno Poet

Photo credit: Johan Persson

I’ve seen several productions of Uncle Vanya now, and more often than not they seem to have run with the theme of the hot summer’s day as far as the lighting design goes, bathing the stage in brightness for the daytime scenes. For this new version from Conor McPherson and Ian Rickson, all the action takes place inside – and though there is a wall of windows that would bring some natural light into the house, the dirty panes & wealth of foliage do their best to cast a shadow on the room. The rest of the time the room is illuminated from the inside, making use of the various lamps and candles that are strategically placed around the space. From scene to scene, it’s a breathtaking sight to behold – and absolutely my pick for the Olivier Award.