Alex Brenner

White Light Does The Dance of Death

Originally performed in 1900, The Dance of Death is playwright August Strindberg’s landmark drama about a long marriage that is pushed to its absolute limits. Having been revived hundreds of times over the past century, it has recently been adapted by Oscar-winning playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz and embarked on a UK tour before a full run at the Arcola Theatre in London. The lighting designer for the show was David Howe, who approached White Light for this lighting fixtures. 






The Dance of Death tells the story of Alice and Edgar who, as their 30th wedding anniversary approaches, find themselves locked in a bitter struggle. They’ve driven away their children and their friends and their relationship is sustained by taunts and recriminations. So when a newcomer breaks into the midst of the fray, their insular lives threaten to spin out of control. This new production stars real-life married couple Lindsey Duncan and Hilton McRae as the warring couple and also features Emily Bruni and Gráinne Dromgole. David explains: “With this new adaption, the feeling was that it was set in a timeless era and was described by Director as having moments of “heightened realism”. This then gave me the scope to move a naturalistic scene of drama and push it further with my lighting. I really wanted both the atmosphere and quality of light to be stretched and given a fluid ebb and flow to match the strangeness of the characters. The production was designed by Grace Smart and set in a single room, on a raked stage with a full ceiling above and a back wall which really, “contained” the characters and gives the production a constriction that an open space wouldn’t have produced.  Outside we get a glimpse through double doors onto a terrace”. 






The play was co-production between the Ustinov Studio in Bath and touring houses; Royal Derngate Northampton, Cambridge Arts Theatre and Oxford Playhouse; before its eventual arrival in London. Playing so many different venues and spaces obviously had an influence on David’s design. He explains: “For the Ustinov and Arcola spaces, the doors opened onto brickwork which were lit abstractly to create a sense of world outside, whereas for the Proscenium theatres, where space was more plentiful, we opened onto a BP and Gauze which had a broody sky colour (Lee 243 to be precise!). Similarly, for the larger venues, the space was masked and floated in a sea of black – allowing me to create cold side light shafts across the space to lift the characters out of the reality of the room. The lighting for the entire play had to be very fluid and has many multi-part cues over minutes moving the focus and tone of the room, almost constantly”. 











To help create such a specific design, David approached the Hire team at WL. He explains: “For the initial run in Bath, we used the in-house equipment which was then supplemented with a few fixtures. To make life easier on tour, we then added more touring equipment so there was consistency throughout the other venues. I mainly drew on the (very quiet) MAC Auras for both highlighting specials and heightened colour moments whereas 70’ ETC Source Fours were used to create a broad coverage of gobo textures that textured the wooden grained floor. Source Fours with Beam Benders were used for side-light in order to hide the lamps out of the audience’s view. I also use the Source Four Lustr 2s for low side light with excellent colour shifting subtlety. There was also a handful of 650W Fresnels placed on the floor, outside of the rake, to create shadows and silhouettes across the angled ceiling. 






He continues: “With this particular production, I really enjoyed spending time adapting the rig at each of the venues to consider the different front-of-house set-ups. Each week was a voyage of discovery with the cast as they found new nuances in the script so would like to experiment with their staging and I’d adjust my work accordingly. Unlike a normal tour where the LD would perhaps only visit the first venue and then hand the duties on, I was able to adapt and modify each week and especially moving into the Arcola with the audience on three sides where the cross-light positions vanished. Here again is where the Beam Benders allowed me to literally bend light around corners of the space to light actors and not the audience who were literally centimeteters away”.  






The Dance of Death ended its run last week at London’s Arcola Theatre. 






David concludes: “I’d like to thank WL for supplying the rig, the in-house teams at the various venues as well as my Programmer Will Burgher and my Production Electrician Sonic Harrison”. 



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