Howard Davies' revival of Arnold Wesker's Chips With Everything at the Royal National's Lyttleton Theatre in London is a harsh look at life in a Royal Air Force boot camp in the 1950s. A study in class distinction in the military (the word "chips" in the title refers to french fries as a lower-class dietary preference), this all-male drama unfolds in an unforgiving environment designed by Rob Howell with lighting by Rick Fisher. "They wanted to do the play in a non-realistic way without any cutaway rooms or trucks of furniture moving on and off. This is more of an outdoor setting," says Fisher.
The brutality of the action is emphasized in three concentric square cyclone fence enclosures with double-hinged panels that allow sections of the fence to swing in and out and create a series of different locales. The smallest square is used for just one scene, a cleverly choreographed coal-stealing scene that adds a bit of levity to the play. During the remainder of the production, this fencing hangs above the stage. Fisher's lighting had to avoid this as well as a number of industrial lamp shades that flew in and out to denote new locations. The actors change the scenery, moving the fences and bringing in furniture as needed.
"Fortunately, the Lyttleton is blessed with lighting positions," says Fisher, who used quite a lot of frontlight and backlight with extra PAR-64s to accent the fencing. He also used two Arri 2.5kW HMIs with a cold light (open white and Lee 202) as single-source backlight to cover large stage areas. To create a Christmas party feeling within what Fisher calls "an unfriendly atmosphere," he used the Rosco red gel that comes as part of the Lyttleton's rep plot in Strand color scrollers, and the actors hang garlands of green Christmas lights to add to the sense of festivity. An interesting practical onstage was an old-fashioned radio internally lit with a 12V bulb and controlled by a remote control radio dimmer from Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd.
Unable to use much of the standard rig in the Lyttleton, Fisher did take advantage of four ADB 5kW fresnels with scrollers and 16-color scrolls. He also used all four front washes provided by the repertory plot with Lee 202, Lee 212 (straw) and Lee 117 (a greenish steel blue) in Strand Cantatas hung in the Lyttleton's three ceiling coves. Additional Cantatas hung over the stage were used as a top sidelight wash and as accent lights through the wire mesh of the fences. Fisher added red and blue (Rosco 68) in PAR can toplight that followed the outline of the three fences and accentuated the metallic texture. "I could light the fences together or separately according to the action on stage," says Fisher, who added a deep blue (Lee 363) in a 5kW tungsten fresnel to create an eerie night atmosphere for one scene.
"The lighting made the rooms seem plausible, and not hard to light, even though they weren't really there," Fisher says. "But it was quite tricky to get light in there and make the people look good. Hopefully it was effective."