Sharron Wallace

White Light Goes into Overflow at Bush Theatre

Ever since it was founded in 1972, the Bush Theatre has become renowned for staging ground-breaking work from some of the world’s most exciting artists. Located in West London, it recently re-opened with the world premiere of Overflow, written by Travis Alabanza, one of the UK’s most prominent trans voices. Performed in the venue’s main Holloway space, it features a lighting design by Jess Bernberg who approached White Light to provide the lighting equipment.   






Overflow is a welcome return to live performance for the iconic Bush Theatre, as well as for Jess herself. She explains: “Safe to say, it has been a slightly surreal few months. Back in March, I was one day away from opening Gulliver’s Travels at the Unicorn when we went into lockdown. In the meantime, I kept myself busy by learning French and German on Zoom with other designers, as well as pushing my work with the ALD and their sustainability measures. I had taken a break from theatre when, early last month, I spoke to Overflow’s director Debbie Hannan who asked to light the show Overflow. Knowing how wonderful the theatre, the team and the script was, I was incredibly excited”.   






Overflow is a hilarious and devastating tour of women’s bathrooms, told through the story of Rosie who is played by transgender actress, writer, and poetReece Lyons. Jess comments: ”From the early stages, Debbie and Max Johns, our designer, and I knew we wanted to achieve a surreal vapourware aesthetic for our abstracted bathroom space. We were restricted to a thrust staging as this allowed the most capacity for a socially-distant audience. In terms of what I wanted to achieve artistically, Rosie is an extrovert who really pulls us through the story and this felt like the jumping off point for the lighting. We know Rosie would have no fear slamming us into a bright pink state, or the depths of a rave and so we wanted to make her memories vivid in colour. From there, I started with the muted colours of the set and we created a dramaturgy for Rosie’s colour world through tech – teal for childhood, acid green for the fear of the outside trying to get in, purple and acid yellow for her friend Zee and raves, bright pink for her friend Charlotte, orange for liberation and then back to neutral for the present day”.   











As the show was being planned during a global pandemic, this meant that Jess’ normal preparation plans for a show had to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances. She explains: “As with so many shows being made during this period, there were many Zoom calls. We had our first read through/meet and greet on Zoom, which was obviously quite a strange affair, but great to hear the script out loud. We only had three weeks rehearsal and our wonderful Stage Manager Rike Berg needed 24 hours’ notice for those attending rehearsals to keep capacity down and enough distance. I made sure I attended as many rehearsals as possible (mask on, of course) and it wasfantastic . Just to be sat in a space creating a show, was such a privilege and one I didn’t take for granted”.    






Once Jess had decided what her lighting design needed to look like, she approached the Hires team at WL who assisted her in supplementing the Bush’s existing in-house rig. She explains: “I used ColorSource Profiles and various LED pars which could fit within a relatively small rig yet still pack a punch with colour and intensity. I’m an active environmentalist so was conscious to make the rig have as low carbon footprint as possible, with the energy consumption data being analysed by Rob Halliday and his PowerTrack software. Days before fit up, the set design changed to incorporate a back wall feature, which, although feeling very right for the space, left me with a 7m x 3m white wall to light! I ended up using ETC ColorSource Cyc units, which were absolutely perfect as they colour-matched well with the rest of the rig, were incredibly bright even over the wide span, and created soft, diffused light that gave me a backwall canvas to play with in vapourware style acidic and pastel block colour”.   






The show opened last week to rave reviews across the board and immediately announced an extension into January 2021. Although, with the government’s announcement of London entering Tier 3, this means that all theatres within the city must now close and any live performance is unable to go ahead.    






Jess concludes: “It is, of course, incredibly disheartening to hear that tonight will be the last performance we have for the foreseeable future. As difficult as this is, I am incredibly proud of what we managed to achieve and how we overcame all of the obstacles to put on a show that champions a voice and story we don’t see enough on stage. I’d like to say a massive thank you to the Bush team and all of the other creatives I was lucky enough to work with on this show. I’d also like to say a big thanks to the WL team for their fantastic support once again and for providing such a brilliant service during what is a surreal time for everyone in our industry”.