One of the highlights from this year's Festival of Perth, a mix of dance, music, theatre, and spectacle that has captivated West Australia for 46 years, was the work of local lighting designer Philip Lethlean on the play MasterKey (pictured), a Japanese/Australian co-production. Though it was MasterKey's debut season the production held its own against other festival acts.
Based on a novel by Japanese writer Masako Togawa, the haunting tale is set in a women's apartment block in postwar Japan. The mystery begins when the government relocates the building to make way for a new freeway and a child's body is discovered buried in the basement.
Mary Moore, an English-born theatre designer living in Australia, is the creative force behind the adaptation of MasterKey. Not only did she co-adapt the novel, she also designed the set and directed the production.
LD Lethlean found it a challenge to work on the play, especially as he only got to see two days of rehearsal before drawing up his light plot. "Mary rehearsed the show in Adelaide and I live in Melbourne some 650km [400mi.] away, but the show opened in Perth, on the other side of the country. I returned to Adelaide four days before we traveled to Perth to open MasterKey for the Festival, so it was all rather tight." Fortunately Moore and Lethlean had worked together before.
The set for MasterKey was exquisitely detailed, with the main elements a series of "wardrobes" which opened to reveal the rooms in the apartment building. Lethlean's design used mostly ellipsoidals to control spill and keep the feeling intimate, resorting to removing the knobs from the shutter blades to facilitate the extremely narrow cuts that he required. He kept the proscenium arch stage filled with haze throughout the production, which helped him to create the corridors of the apartment building by picking up the crisp edges of the hard-focused beams.
Lethlean used Lee 201 (full-correction blue) to help evoke the cold, lonely feeling of the apartment block and no color for a sepia look to reflect the 1940s. He hung 20W halogen lamps inside the wardrobes, which were difficult to light due to the confined spaces, and used lampshades to create the texture and depth he desired for the imaginary hallways. His stunning control over MasterKey's imagery reflects his long history with blacklight theatre and puppetry.
Equally engaging lighting was contributed by Gerd Van Heey for the touring production of La Tristeza Complice (The Shared Sorrow), performed by the Belgian companies Les Ballets C. de la B. and Het Muziek Lod; and the seven-hour-long Seven Streams of the River Ota, originally lit by Sonoyo Nishikawa, and currently by Christian Gagnon. The Festival of Perth was held February 13 to March 8.