White Light is a Clear Choice for The Glass Menagerie

Widely regarded as one of the most iconic plays of all time, and one which propelled writer Tennessee Williams to international fame, The Glass Menagerie tells the story of a son recalling his stifled upbringing in St Louis, in what soon becomes a powerful meditation on the fragility of memory. It has recently been revived in London’s West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre and stars Hollywood actress Amy Adams. The show also features a lighting design by multi-Olivier and Tony Award-winning Paule Constable, who approached White Light (WL) to supply the lighting equipment. 

Despite premiering on Broadway almost 80 years ago, The Glass Menagerie is a show that remains timeless and has been revived multiple times, including a production in 2017 which was also at the Duke of York’s and which WL also supplied the lighting for. So how does a designer approach such a well-known show with a fresh pair of eyes? Paule explains: “Regardless of how many times a play is revived, it will always remain a piece of writing that is open to interpretation. For instance, I’ve worked on four separate productions of the opera Cosi fan tutte and every single one has been radically different. As such, I’m not fearful of doing a piece that has been performed multiple times because this is the first one that Jeremy Herrin, Vicki Mortimer and this group of performers and creatives have made a production together so it will be an entirely new thing. In many ways, as the Lighting Designer, you are always inventing anew because you are responding to the world that the designer and director have dreamt up and it’s this exact creative journey what excites and engages me”. 

In terms of what her design had to achieve, this was largely inspired by the creative team’s specific interpretation of the play. Paule explains: “We’ve tried to shed many of the trappings that define the piece – something that many will love yet many purists may be annoyed by, I’m sure! We’ve imagined Tennessee Williams as the age of the actor Paul Hilton relative to his actual history and so have set the piece in a “happening” in a warehouse/studio space in late 1960s New York.  I did a lot of research as to how those events were lit so based the rig around mid-century found lamps as well as photographic scoops.  We’ve tried to not have any “theatre” lights visible to the audience within the performance space which was obviously quite a challenge – but I really enjoy creating something with strict rules…”. 

Once Paule knew what she wanted to achieve with her design, she approached the Hire team at WL to draw on the necessary fixtures: “Alongside the period equipment, we decided to mainly use Four x MAC Encore Warm High Performances as well as ETC Lustr 2s. These were used as head high cross light, to toplight the performance space and diffuse front of house fill.  The strong backlight is also a hidden bar of CP62s. What we’ve drawn on is pretty old school. However, it was perfect for this show and the looks we wanted to achieve. Ultimately, I really wanted to ensure the show didn’t feel ‘theatrical’ and more like an installation gig – something I believe we were able to do”. 

The Glass Menagerie has now opened and will run until 27th August 2022. It marks one of many West End shows that Paule has lit so far this year, with another recent production being Cock, which ended its run only last week and which WL also supplied the lighting on. Speaking of working on Mike Bartlett’s hit play, Paule comments: “Cock couldn’t have been more different to The Glass Mengarie; which is, of course, often the case with shows. The set was a high shine curved space so essentially a 6m high curved back wall that encloses the action.  It was immediately clear this meant that the light was pretty uncontrollable – but also that the space would be filled with it! As such, I wanted to put light into the space as an active element so designed a grid of titan tubes that float above it; each controlled by Nano winches so they can move independently.  These then created a landscape of light that could entirely hold the space. 

She continues: “The rig beyond this was super simple and was again based around ETC Lustr 2 units. I really wanted to also create an in-view world of lighting that helped create this sense of light participating – so I rigged a simple curved bar above the wall that echoed the shape of the space.  I ideally wanted some movers so the space could breathe and found myself drawing on the VL1100 arcs as they are silent and any noise would have been a nightmare in a high shine metallic curved space!”.   

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