Based on Alice Sebold’s novel, The Lovely Bones is a unique coming-of-age story about Susie Salmon who is observing her family from the afterlife as they try and deal with her death in different ways. Adapted by Bryony Lavery, the production is directed by Melly Still and features a lighting design by Matt Haskins. Matt comments: “Bryony Lavery’s adaptation is a mesmerising piece of theatre that, despite its often dark subject matter, proves uplifting and cathartic. The text actually expanded and changed heavily through the rehearsal process and what emerged was a very physical, and visually experimental way of storytelling”.
As such, Matt soon realised that he needed to have a flexible rig to respond to the new ideas as they unfolded throughout the process. He continues: “The main brief for everyone was how to give a sense of heaven and earth. Set Designer, Ana Inés Jabares-Pita created a ‘stealth’ set that comprised of a giant two way mirror set at 45 degrees to the show floor edged with earth, and an upstage horizontal line of corn protruding from its base. Behind the mirror were two tiers of decking on which our actors could also appear. This arrangement proved to be a giant Pepper’s Ghost effect, relying on carefully positioned lighting that would then allow us to superimpose real and reflected images together; as the lines between heaven & earth become blurred”.
Matt then approached the Hires Team at WL to provide him with the lighting equipment he required for such an intricate rig. He explains: “Moving light wise, I knew that a mix of tungsten and discharge would work well in juxtaposition of the play’s wintery landscape. As a result, I drew on MAC Encore Warms with a Heavy Frost option (every moving light focus is extremely visible in the mirror above, so Heavy Frost was a must) along with some TW1 80V Narrows. We actually visited WL’s HQ where my associate Teresa Nagel and I did some tungsten colour matching at intensity intervals to ensure that they look like conventional units at lower levels.
He continues: “We also called on Mac Viper Performances with some custom gobo loads for the discharge sources. Nothing compares to the TW1s, so these were kept as their quality of light is important to the production. Booms consist of Lustr 2s, S4s, Pars (for some tungsten heat) & Martin Rush pars with custom Top Hats so they aren’t visible in the mirror. WL also supplied City Theatre Candle Kits which were placed in the set behind the mirror which allow us to superimpose them into the reflected cornfield at moments when the town hold memorials for Susie”.
As with many touring productions, there were some obstacles that Matt had to contend with. He explains: “As the mirror takes up most of the overhead space, we could only use 3 LX bars (the upstage ones only have 5 units on between them). This means that the units on our LX1 are kept very busy during the show. We also rely heavily on side light which is loaded into touring towers with an extension pipe to get a slightly higher angle into the floor for the rush pars. It’s interesting lighting for both a real and reflected image, and sometimes we chose to prioritise one or the other as the story requires. A lot of work goes into making sure the moving light presets look tidy in both planes – it can be hard work for the programmer as viewing two differing images of one shutter cut can be confusing!”.
The Lovely Bones has now opened to rave reviews and is currently at the Theatre Royal Nottingham. It will then travel across the country to venues including The Lowry Salford, Rose Theatre Kingston, London’s Hackney Empire and Chichester Festival Theatre.
Matt concludes: “I’d like to say thanks to my associate Teresa Nagel who has worked with me on the show since its inception, Jonathan Blunsdon who originally programmed the show and Prod LX Mim Spencer who is taking the show out on tour this year – a great team! Also, thanks to WL for providing such a great service and the exact equipment I needed to achieve my design”.