The strong colors Tina McHugh found on the Aran Islands inspired the lighting designer's work on Shadows, the Royal Shakespeare Company production of three Irish one-acts directed by John Crowley. Performed in traverse in The Other Place at Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the plays Riders to the Sea and In the Shadow of the Glen by J.M. Synge, and William Butler Yeats' Purgatory are united by a concern with death.
Riders and Glen are set inside a rural Irish cottage, for which Angela Davies supplied a plank floor, long wooden table, chairs, sideboard, and peat-brick fire. At one end of the long stage, panels slid apart to form a vertical opening, beyond which was a white cyc lit by white light--a stylized entryway that suggested, for Riders, a bare sky seen from a promontory overlooking the ocean. Only a rock onstage indicated where the indoors had become outdoors. The sisters Nora and Cathleen, who fear their brother has drowned, wore dresses of thick, coarse wool, also designed by Davies.
McHugh chose Rosco 56, a heavy lilac typical of the Aran Islands, to highlight the bright dresses. "I just used tinting to pick out the heavy red costumes and give that element of death that carried throughout," she says. "The use of color was minimalist, in a sense. The green I used was a very matte green, to give a hint of strangeness."
For the darkly comic Glen, McHugh encountered her greatest difficulty, isolating light in traverse staging. She relied on blue light (Rosco 363) to chill the hearthside. "The first piece was very open, cold, and harsh." But in Glen "there is a lot of candlelight and fire. It's coziness, which I tried to counteract with the blue. We wanted to keep an edge to it."
In Purgatory, a father and son arrive at a ruined house in moonlight. A Godot-like tree stands at the side opening, and the stage is bare. McHugh observed occasional cues from Yeats, bathing the tree in white when the father says, "It stands there like a purified soul, all cold, sweet, glistening light." But inspiration struck during rehearsal, when Crowley had the two actors put on blindfolds. "They did the whole piece that way," says McHugh, "so we had the idea of using very little light, but very defined. There were times when the actor would literally walk out of light into darkness, and that was intentional."
McHugh lit the cyc with deep purple (Rosco 383), paler at the top and bottom and intensifying toward a horizontal center line. "It's a night sky, so I used a very red-blue, going into a purple effect," she says. "It's slightly non-realistic. There are these incredible skies and colors in the west in the islands. When they get to the stage, people think, 'There's no way that is real,' but when you see it, it's quite astonishing."