S+H helps twinkle factor at Abba Christmas Party

Photo by Tony Edmonds

S+H Technical’s lights were used for The Abba Christmas Party, a TV special produced by Thames, part of FreemantleMedia UK, at the London Studios on the South Bank. The show was broadcast on Christmas Eve’s ITV 1 prime time.

S+H Technical supplied 360 metres of its ShowLED animation cloth, 20 metres of one and two metre Pea-light strings and 2000 4-channel DMX controlled Pea-lights to decorate three Christmas trees.

Production Designer Joshua Grace created the Abba Lodge, a super Christmassy Scandinavian inspired environment – in a nod to Abba’s Swedish roots – and Festive Cabin for presenter Paddy McGuinness, who was joined by a host of music, TV and theatre stars.

They performed a wide range of Abba songs and shared their own personal Abba memories in a series of chat-style sessions, all celebrating of 41 years since Abba released their original Greatest Hits album in 1975. An exclusive interview with Bjorn Ulvaes revealed some of his own Abba memories.

The ShowLED animation cloth – one of S+H’s most adaptable and popular LED drape products – was used as the ‘night sky’ at the back of the set.

Visible through the various layers of scenics, the idea was that it could either twinkle away or have subtle animations run through it, such as the Northern Lights, plus disco style patterns for the up-tempo numbers. It was chosen because it is “extremely versatile”, according to Grace.

The S+H crew on site, led by Terry Murtha, dressed the three large Christmas trees with the Pea lights and, once that was complete, handed them over to Grace and his art department for further decorative embellishment.

The Pea light strings were used to dress the set balcony area and the stair handrails, all adding to the general warm ‘glow’ factor.

All the Pea light elements were run through the lighting desk programmed and operated by Dave Bishop, working under the direction of Lighting Director, Chris Kempton, so these could be pulsed, chased, twinkled, brightened or dimmed according to the specific requirements of the act / song. He also had control of the animation cloth.

“Seeing the twinkling night sky beyond and through the set, plus all the tree lights and those adorning the set, was fundamental to creating the unique look and ambience of the show,” explained Grace, whose biggest design challenge was to ensure there was plenty of contingency for Kempton to ensure each performance could look different and individual when it came to the lighting treatment.

Sometimes Christmas sets can get locked in to one look, however, with these layered scenic lighting variations available, it was a constantly dynamic and changing space.

It was also important to introduce a hint of nostalgia in keeping with the music, so Grace said that he felt the Starcloth “also helped evoke an essence of entertainment history’s glorious and significant moments”.

The great thing about using the animation cloth, he commented, is that it is possible to “achieve that nostalgic look in a modern context utilising the video capabilities”.

The eclectic performance line up included The Feeling, Scouting For Girls, Nadine Coyle, Union J, Susan Boyle and Daniel O’Donnell alongside leading ITV soap stars like Catherine Tyledsley and Shayne Ward from Coronation Street and Gemma Atkinson, Amy Walsh and Michelle Hardwick from Emmerdale, plus the cast of Mamma Mia playing in the West End.

They performed timeless Abba classics including Super Trouper, I Have A Dream, Dancing Queen and many more, getting the audience up on their feet dancing and well in the Christmas spirit.

Grace has been working with S+H for around 10 years. “They have a great range of fantastic products that are not available anywhere else,” stated the designer, who is well known for his imaginative production designs on TV as well as for music artists and concerts.

The S+H team were all ”really enthusiastic and worked very hard with lots of smiles to make sure this one met the tight get-in schedule,” he observed.

S+H’s Murtha commented: “Yes this one was really good fun – and the results looked spectacular! We were all very impressed by just how much variation can be made to a studio with thought and careful application of ‘the twinkle factor’.”

John L Spencer directed the show, the Executive Producers were Mel Balac and Suzy Lamb and the Series Producer was Barry Hart.