For the Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Secret Garden, which recently moved to London after a run at Stratford-Upon-Avon, sound designers Andrew Bruce and Terry Jardine took the step of sharing the sound design honors, a trend that is just now starting to take hold on musicals of this magnitude. Bruce took care of the show's various effects, while Jardine handled the music and vocal performances. “The demands for effects are so much greater these days, and directors like Adrian Noble are aware that they can ask for quite complex audio productions,” explains Jardine. “To produce the precise effects that are required while also worrying about the radio mics and foldback would just not be possible.”
Bruce used the DAR Soundstation for effects production, editing, and playback on the show. “I put together a first version of the effects that were needed so that we were able work on them as we went along — in the rehearsal room,” says the designer.
The effects speaker system, which was installed (along with the music and voice system) by London-based Autograph Sound Recording, is largely based on the Meyer Sound UPM-1. Four enclosures are located in each of the stalls, circle, and gallery for surround effects, while the stage itself contains four more, as well as a complement of UPA-1Cs. Playback is controlled by a DAR TheatrePlay system, and the whole system runs through an Outboard TiMax surround control unit. For the band and voices, Jardine's Cadac E-Type was configured to allow separate processing and equalizing of vocal and music mixes, before distribution to the Meyer MSL-2/UPA/UPM system. Vocal microphones (of which there are a modest 24) are DPA 4060s, using Sennheiser SK50/2532 UHF transmitters and receivers. Though in-house delay speakers were used at Stratford, Jardine will be specifying Meyer UPMs for the installation at London's' Aldwych Theatre.
One particular challenge for the sound designers was apparent as soon as the set model was revealed — large expanses of painted Perspex form an important part of the set. A flown reflective backdrop added a further, albeit intermittent, complication. “At the points in the show where there is dialogue in front of the hard backdrop, there is an enormous flutter echo,” explains Bruce, “and if anyone is standing behind a piece of the set, they can't hear anything at all.” The latter problem was resolved by designing a comprehensive foldback system, involving Meyer UPMs positioned in every stage-side bay, as well as strategic positions onstage. The Perspex-induced echo, however, proved more difficult to overcome, and resulted in repositioning actors in certain scenes, as well as some nimble manipulation at the mixing desk. “This shows how important it is for sound designers to be involved at the earliest possible point in a production's life,” says Bruce.