Martin Professional’s new Tungsten automated wash fixture, the MAC TW1, has been chosen by the UK’s National Theatre for its touring production of The History Boys after which they will be permanently installed in the National’s Lyttelton Theatre in London.

The History Boys, a multi award winning play by English playwright Alan Bennett, originally opened two years ago at the Lyttelton. After touring the UK, and then internationally, it enjoyed a successful run on Broadway earlier this year. Another UK tour kicked off this past August—this time with the warmth of Martin’s Tungsten halogen wash as an important element of the rig. The History Boys will play at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End before the TW1’s settle into their home at the Lyttelton.

Simon Fraulo, chief lighting technician at the National Theatre, reproduced the lighting for the tour, making adjustments to lighting designer Mark Henderson’s original design, who, incidentally, has also specified TW1s for a revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, The Sound of Music, which will open at the London Palladium on 14 November. Mark won a 2006 Tony Award for “Best Lighting Design of a Play” for the Broadway production.

“It’s safe to say that we are very impressed with the unit,” comments Simon Fraulo. “I’ve opened it up and it’s a stunning piece of kit. First and foremost we chose the MAC TW1 because it is silent. Our director, Nicholas Hytner, is very studious about silent technology and can’t bear fan noise. At the opening in Birmingham he was very happy and very impressed with the fact that he couldn’t hear any fan noise. As far as movement goes, it is also exceedingly quiet.

“Secondly, it is very accurate in reproducing its pan and tilt position and is programmed very quickly. The next crucial element is color mixing. If I mix 201 to one unit and copy those DMX across the other units for example, they are absolutely identical. And I like how I can get from one color to another without passing through unpleasantness. At one point in the show I have to get from 201 to Rosco 85 and unlike another Tungsten fixture I have used, with the TW1 I don’t have to go through a disgusting color, which is just fantastic. The zoom capability is something that has really impressed me as well.

“I haven’t had a need to use any of the fixture’s internal timing channels, the light moves so smoothly I don’t have to worry about it. Likewise with the color mixing. I do live color changes and live moves and they are really nice. And the light is bright. That’s another consideration obviously and the fact that they are Tungsten is just a joy.”

The National Theatre owns 14 MAC TW1’s with 11 and a spare used on the tour. Simon has them located at several positions—on stage, in the overhead rig and at FOH with trim heights varying but averaging about 7.5 meters. “The problem we had when we originally did this production is that the top of the set is covered with florescent lights and we couldn’t actually have any generic lighting overhead to light the show conventionally, so it was basically all lit from proscenium and on stage perch positions coming in from the sides and side booms and a bit of FOH on a proscenium boom position.

“Overhead we can flood the TW1s out or isolate and highlight areas. I use them to focus people’s attention, really. On the whole they are used for wash lighting but we also drop the whole lighting down and pick out people for a monologue. We’re not bringing somebody out on a hard spot or using a PC type special on them, but use the washlight to do a large spot down and change color. I’m also using the internal dimmers which save us a lot of cabling and aggravation.” Lighting control is from a Strand 500 series console.

The History Boys is currently playing a busy seven shows a week schedule across the UK with the MAC TW1s having ‘no problems at all’ according to Simon. The TW1s were supplied to the National Theatre by White Light.

Michael Atkinson, senior project manager, National Theatre lighting resources department, adds, “The TW1’s most attractive features are its quiet operation, even color mixing and the ability to switch between internal and external dimming. So far they have been fantastic and done just what it says on the can.”

The National houses three theatres—the Olivier, the Lyttelton, and the Cottesloe, all under one roof on the South Bank in London—and presents an eclectic mix of new plays and classics.

Lighting Designer
Mark Henderson

Lighting Programmer
Simon Fraulo

Chief Electrician
Richard Bradshaw