MLA Tames Complexity of Anniversary War of the Worlds Tour

Martin Audio MLA helped provide clear audio for the 40th anniversary War of the Worlds show

Celebrating its 40th-anniversary tour at the end of 2018, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds showed it has lost none of its momentum and has been played out on three Martin Audio’s MLA PAs.

The production is constructed around its iconic, three-tonne 35ft tall Martian Fighting Machine, which fires real flames, against the backdrop of a captivating 100ft wide animation wall. From a musical perspective, the 36-piece ULLAdubULLA strings performed alongside the nine-piece Black Smoke Band. With some of the cast reprising their original roles including Liam Neeson (in 3D holography) and Jason Donovan.

In terms of production, the inordinate amount of inventory provided by sound, lighting, video, pyro and stage and motion control suppliers will have presented a logistical nightmare for Production Manager Steve Nolan and his team. Fortunately, Sound Rental company RG Jones has wide experience of this production, and FOH Engineer Simon Honywill was on his fifth tour of duty, having first piloted the mix back in 2009.

Having again selected Martin MLA as his PA of choice, Honywill was eager to extoll its unique virtues. “I wouldn’t do this show with any other PA,” he stated unequivocally. “In fact, I couldn’t do the show. One of the crucial elements is the narration and if the intelligibility is compromised people complain, as it’s an iconic part of the production. On top of that MLA just sounds awesome.”

Some arenas seem determined to challenge this, often arced with glazed VIP boxes at the horseshoe end. Honywill acknowledged that this generated unwanted reflections. He combatted this with the Martin Audio Hard Avoid setting that mitigated unwanted reflection and focused the acoustic energy.

The design of the Martin Audio system had been slightly modified from the 2014 production—minor changes to the front fills, a bit more ordnance in the PA dept, and the hangs being pushed further upstage to preserve sightlines meant that bespoke measurements had to be undertaken to ensure the accuracy of the optimisation.

At the 20,000-plus capacity venues, production fielded 20 Martin MLA elements per side, with 16 Martin MLA Compact providing outfills. To compensate for the slightly odd position of the main hangs, eight MLA Mini elements on each stage wing were focused at the front to keep the energy level off the stage, driven by Martin Audio multi-channel iKON amplifiers, which provided an elegant solution.

Honywill was piloting his mix on a DiGiCo SD7 with Fader Expansion. With three fully loaded 56-input racks his input count is 168 channels. The playback machines also generated time-code, which played a crucial part in enabling both Honywill and Monitor Engineer Becky Pell to mix the complex soundscape, while Nathan Kennedy supervised RF and radio mics.

But the quality of the narration — every word of Liam Neeson’s commentary highly intelligible—meant it was never fighting through the context of a loud rock theatre show. That every word was crystal clear was due in no small part to Martin MLA, and Steve Carr’s programming expertise.

Honywill said: “It was the first time I had done NEC in a long time and I’d forgotten how good it could be. MLA sounded amazing, every little nuance, pan and grace note was there, everywhere.”