As artistic director Trevor Nunn's reign at the Royal National Theatre in London comes to a close, DHA Lighting recently concluded work on three major productions at the theatre. Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, Nunn's revival of the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes, and the director's swan song, Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, all called on the expertise of DHA staff as well as the company's products.
DHA services and skills were called upon last summer to work with Hersey and set designer Bill Dudley on The Coast of Utopia, which was nominated for four Olivier Awards, including best set design and best lighting design.
Anything Goes called for DHA's Wyatt Enever's talents to "pre-distort" slides. Enever was presented with a curved cyclorama on which images of a transatlantic journey from a New York skyline to the Isle of Wight Needles would be projected, and it looked like a straightforward task. "As is so often the case, it wasn't that simple," he says Enever. Working closely with Hersey, the show's lighting designer, Enever planned to use three Pani BP4 large-format projectors back-projecting a seamless image onto the curved cyc that formed the backdrop of John Gunter's striking set.
Enever recalls, "The architecture of the theatre meant that we couldn't put the projectors in the ideal positions, as there were pillars in the way. The projectors also had to be positioned under an overhang, so it couldn't be at the optimum height and the screen wasn't really a true curve." Enever and colleague Steve Larkins, along with the National's staff, carried out trials, projecting grid slides from the projectors onto the cyc and calculating the distortions required to match the parameters of projector and screen. (Assistant LD Rachael McCutcheon described the process as the "FizzyWyg" method.)
From this work, accurate pre-distorted grid slides were produced. Enever and Larkins then took the show's images, supplied by artist Richard Kenyon, and split them into images for the three projectors, predistorted as required. Soft-edged masks were also created for each projector, allowing the images to blend seamlessly. The pair also produced film for a fourth Pani, this one a 4kW Compact fitted with a PIGI film scroller positioned in the centre of the cyclorama. It provided a scrolling image as the ship leaves dock.
The resulting images "look great," says Enever. "Given the problems we had, I was delighted. The artwork was excellent and the set looked stunning." The sell-out show was also nominated for an Olivier Award, in the Outstanding Musical Production category.
DHA's work in creating these alignment grids paid dividends a few months later on Love's Labour's Lost, which uses the same projectors on the same projection screens. The show was again designed by John Gunter with lighting by David Hersey, and on this occasion the duo intended to use projection to create what Enever describes as "highly detailed gobos."
The original artwork for these images came from Enever's own photographs of beech trees near his Surrey home. However, the white sky filtering through these images was too light to blend with the tree and painted gauzes Gunter designed for the production. "We spent quite a lot of time in Photoshop, taking suitable greens and dropping them into the sky areas," says Enever. "We've ended up with some quite lovely colours which work very well with the set and the show." The images were carefully masked to give a soft edge, then split into two for projection from two of the Pani projectors.
Love's Labour's Lost opened on February 22 to critical acclaim. The Observer praised its "majestic" design. It is playing in rep with Anything Goes in the Olivier Theatre until late March. DHA's projection expertise is now also available in the field of video projection through its sister company Scene Change.