The National Theatre’s production of Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ The Death of England was performed at the Dorfman Theatre in Spring 2020 prior to the venue’s closure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The one-man show was an intense study of grief and identity in Britain, performed in-the-round on a cross-shaped stage by Rafe Spall in an explosively energetic performance. Dyer’s direction, and Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and ULTZ’s stark set demanded equally dramatic lighting from the outset, which was provided by dance and theatre lighting designer, and NT regular, Jackie Shemesh.
The LD selected four Ayrton Diablo 300W LED profile fixtures as central features of his design, which he mainly deployed as followspots to track Spall’s every move.
The Diablo fixtures were rigged above the four inner corners of the cross stage, side-mounted and dropped 1m lower than the rest of the rig to allow clear sightlines to every angle of the stage. “I felt very strongly that the Diablos should be lower than the height of the Dorfman as I wanted them to be visible to the audience as part of the overall design concept,” said Shemesh. “Diablo’s small form factor proved a definite advantage: they just looked right and their compact size did not obscure the audience sightlines.”
The Dorfman Theatre is the smallest of the National Theatre’s three spaces with a 450-seat capacity, and a balcony on a level with the lighting rig.“The Diablos were rigged only 2m to 2.5m from audience yet we had no complaints about noise,” said Shemesh. “That was a relief and such a benefit!”
Shemesh employed the Diablo fixtures as wash lights, with no added colour, colour correction or gobos, preferring instead to make subtle adjustments to the colour temperature. “I call Kelvin, not colour, when we are programming,” he explained. “Using Diablo as a theatre followspot enabled me to highlight every nuance of the many facial expressions of this incredibly talented actor. Diablo was the perfect wash light, allowing the audience to see his face at all times – in effect, becoming the companions of the actor on stage.”
The four Diablo profiles were controlled by zactrack, with the lighting fixtures and the tracking system both recommended and supplied by Ambersphere Solutions, the UK’s exclusive distributor for Ayrton and zactrack. “Ambersphere recommended Diablo clearly from the outset but, as I hadn’t used it before, I was keen to explore other options too,” explained Shemesh. “However, our comprehensive try outs soon proved to me that Diablo reacted best with zactrack on every parameter – it was precise, accurate, and the fastest light to respond.”
Jack Champion, lighting supervisor for the Dorfman, agreed: “Diablo kept up incredibly well with Rafe’s jagged and staccato movements, handling the changes in speed, direction and stage levels with ease. It has a very good response time and no lag, and worked equally as well with the Robert Juliat SpotMe system we have in the Olivier, which made Diablo the ideal investment for both venues. I was particularly impressed with Diablo’s brightness in relation to its size and weight. It’s light enough for a one-man rig and can be rigged at any angle which makes it extremely flexible. I can see potential for even greater applications in a venue like the Dorfman with low ceiling heights.”
Ambersphere’s Philip Norfolk commented: “After being asked to provide automated tracking for a new show at the National, it was clear that the design requirements and equipment usage would be critical to the shows overall success. Jackie and the whole team at the National Theatre really embraced a new system for controlling movement of lights and new fixtures themselves. It was a real leap of faith by them all. I am delighted it was such a success and looked fabulous for the audiences that got the chance to see it.”