British LD Peter Mumford crossed the pond again this Broadway season with the award-winning play Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright. (The play, produced by Lincoln Center Theatre at the Golden Theatre, closes May 4.) A speculation about the time spent in England by the young Vincent Van Gogh, the piece, as directed by Richard Eyre, is naturalistic, but Mumford, along with scenic and costume designer Tim Hatley, season it with a bit of Van Gogh's Impressionism.
Speaking about the production, Mumford says, “Richard presents the piece in a very naturalistic way. That was the approach. I believe the piece is about discovery, the seeds of talent being sown. So, I wanted to give that implication, the same way that Tim has done it with little hints of furniture that are quite like Van Gogh pieces, in a sense. I wanted to do the same thing light-wise, but bearing in mind that it is naturalistic. There is a lot of heavy color in the rig but it is only really working into the shadows. The shadows take on a slightly painterly color and, just every now and then, in the changes, we go into a more extreme, slightly Impressionistic mode. So, overall, it retains the sense of naturalism, but just hints at the possibilities. Just a hint of the world shaping him but not working against the style of the play itself.”
During scene changes Mumford paints like Van Gogh, with a rich color wash of blue. “The scene changes were built around the idea that the stage manager is in costume clearing the table,” he says. Mumford also makes use of a unique signature, with many scenes ending with a strong shaft of light coming through the kitchen door. “It is light coming in from the rest of the house,” he says. “It is quite difficult to get shaping and an architectural feel on a set like this, so the light is used to give you a sense that there are more rooms beyond.”
In each scene, Mumford also uses light to establish the time of day, in which subtle shafts of sunlight play across the stage. The LD found that the best way to realize this movement of light was, literally, with moving units. “What's interesting about using moving lights is that, in fact, light does move. Light is moving and changing around you all the time in life. [Moving lights] give us a way of bringing that into a theatrical context.” Here he uses the Vari*Lite® VL1000™. “I quite like Vari-Lite,” he adds. “I find their movement is reliable and I like their color-changing. Although you would hardly know the show has moving lights in it, they are actually working quite hard throughout the piece — not just in terms of movement but for color change. They are moving most of the time but in very subtle ways. For that you need equipment that moves in an imperceptible, rather than in a rock and roll, way.”
For example, the final scenes play on a dark stage illuminated only by an oil lamp. “It is dramatic lighting in the sense of the play itself; it is a very depressed moment,” says Mumford. “The oil lamp is the only thing lighting the room at that moment. But in reality the VLs are doing the work. They are actually moving with the oil lamp; as [actress Clare Higgins] comes into the room, they pick up the oil lamp and they move with her. It is all timed and they stay with the lamp. Since you can't light a stage with just an oil lamp, you have to enhance the situation, but you try to do it so as to retain the feel and quality of the lamplight. Also, one has to create incredibly long builds in the cueing; there is one build of almost 10, 15 minutes so that the audience feels as though it is simply their eyes adjusting to the lamp light in the room.”
Other personnel on the production include projection designer Wendall K. Harrington (“She's fabulous,” says Mumford), associate LD Bobby Harrell, technical supervisor Neil Mazzella, and production electrician Graeme McDonnell. Lighting equipment was supplied by GSD Productions.