Illuminate Design helps light up the darkness of Ted Hughes’ Crow

The Olympic Games in London may have come to an end, but the London 2012 Festival – also known as the Cultural Olympiad – continues to draw in crowds from across the UK. As part of that, the puppeteers responsible for War Horse created a stunning show at the Borough Halls in the south London Olympic borough of Greenwich – with production management by Illuminate Design.
Crow is based on a series of poems by the late poet laureate Ted Hughes, with the Handspring Puppet Company accompanying the telling of their stories through the medium of some truly amazing puppetry. Says Illuminate Design’s co founder Ben Payne: “Handspring did such an amazing job on War Horse, that we all knew we had a lot to live up to. The poems can be quite dark, and so we wanted something suitably intimate.”

Illuminate began by reversing the Borough Halls’ traditional layout, with bleached seating up and on the stage; the performance area is on and around a hillock designed by Holly Waddington on the main floor of the hall, from which snakes and crows of various sizes emerge. Above it, video projection evokes the chaos and creation described in the poetry.

Dance and movement are central to the show, with an electronic music score by Leafcutter John, choreography by Ben Duke and lighting design by Lucy Carter.

Payne continues: “Working with XL Video we fitted two Panasonic PT-DZ1200Es video projectors in the rigging, with video coming from a Catalyst media server, controlled by a Wholehog control desk. It was all filmed in high definition by video designer Yoav Segal, who does not have a theatrical background. This made things interesting for us, as there were times he needed assistance in making his design ideas work into the overall design scheme.

“Production video engineer Ollie Luff tried out various different lenses combinations, and a digital mask was placed to match the unusual shape of the screen, ensuring light only falls where we want it to.

“Lighting itself was programmed by Andrew Grant, on an ETC Eos hired, along with other lighting equipment, from Stage Electrics then moved onto its smaller sibling Ion, to save space and cost. To match the cold, stark mood of Crow, the colours used for lighting include cool blues, but with moments of warmth using blues and greens.”

The show also included the innards of a Nintendo Wii controller to control some of the sound cues – the accelerometer was placed inside one of the crows, so that every time the puppet moved, it triggered a light or sound cue.

“The show is hopefully set to go on tour next year,” says Payne, “so we needed to make sure all the set pieces – including Harlequin flooring – would fit into a truck to make the show economically viable.

“After some production changes – reducing the length of the show by around half an hour – we got some impressive feedback from both the producers and the audience. We’re looking forward to its future life on tour.”