Olivier Theatre House Lighting
Designed by Denys Lasdun and opened in 1976, the National Theatre building marked a dramatic shift in the technological infrastructure of British theatres. The forty years since the building opened have seen many new technologies brought into theatre production; over that time the National has always worked to ensure that those creating shows in the building can make use of such technologies, adding to and adapting its infrastructures to cope. However, the challenges of working in a grade II* listed building, built largely of concrete, means that changes to the original cabling and infrastructure have often been made in piece-meal and somewhat unusual ways.
Client: National Theatre
Project: LED Lighting for Olivier Theatre
Execution: Delivered around performance schedule with the venue fully live
Following the success of the Lyttelton Theatre Houselighting Project in 2017, Push The Button (PTB) and the National’s lighting team now turned their attention to the National’s biggest, most challenging auditorium, the 1165-seat, Greek-amphitheater-inspired Olivier Theatre. As they found in the Lyttelton, the main challenge for the lighting design was not just to match the colour temperature and quality of light that the existing light fittings used but to retrofit the new technology into the auditorium without compromising the artistic integrity of that of the original installation. The other element of the design brief was to restore some of the heritage lighting features which had fallen into a state of disrepair and become disused.
PTB and the National’s team first worked to establish the correct fittings to use in place of each of the current luminaires. To do this they consulted Richard Pilbrow, Laurence Oliviers Lighting Director and Theatre Consultant, to greater understand the original design concepts and whether the current luminaires were accurately replicating it before they attempted to replicate them. Following that meeting PTB were able to suggest products which replicated the current luminaires where they met the original design brief and restored heritage features where they did not.
In 2018 the main auditorium lighting was provided by 300 watt Par 56 luminaires, rigged from the Lighting Bridges. These were replaced with a custom fitting designed by GDS to meet the brief of the National Theatre team. The National Theatre team added a pair of accessory holders so that these lights could be coloured and have a Barndoor or Top Hat when required. In the Circle the main lighting was provided by 75 Watt MR16 Fittings which were recessed into 32 the 52 “Petals” which are suspended acoustic panels that sit as a ceiling above the Circle. Push The Button designed a kit to allow a GDS ArcSystem 1 Cell Pro Downlight to be retro-fitted in place of each of the existing downlights. The same fittings were also used to replace the lights which were rigged on top of the petals to cross light the petals and create a wash light effect across them.
There were then several lighting fixtures which created artistic lighting on the walls in the Olivier, designed to warm up the environment from the harsh concrete. PTB worked with GDS and Erco Lighting to design custom fittings for each of the applications required. The most striking lighting effect one sees in the Olivier is what Pilbrow described as “The flickering light of candle flames” which are seen on the side walls either side of the auditorium. These luminaires are incredibly narrow (less than 5 degrees) and very bright and create a cascading effect that directs the attention towards the stage. PTB worked with Gantom to develop a custom variant of the Gantom One that was able to re-create this critical lighting effect. All of the luminaries used were tested and approved to run on GDS ArcSystem Pro Drivers so that perfect dimming was possible with each and every one.
Equally as challenging as finding the right products for each of the luminaires was the installation program. The Olivier is without doubt one of the busiest theatres in the country and as such a lengthy closure for these works to be carried out was completely out of the question. PTB have grown a reputation for being able to carry out upgrade works with the team working nights and weekends around the venues schedule to achieve projects and it was this approach which was taken. A temporary lighting rig was installed to cover the day to day requirements enabling the PTB team, headed up by Managing Director, Nick Ewin’s with the site team lead by Richard “Animal” Chave. The PTB team worked over a period of nights and weekends with the solution achieved on schedule.
“The scale and complexities of the NT building, and the fact that it never really closes, means that any work here is a special challenge,” comments the National’s Head of Lighting, Matt Drury. “Because of that, we are very happy to have PTB here with us through our process of upgrading our lighting systems. They plan everything carefully, but are unphased by the surprises the building inevitably throws up, just taking them in their stride and adapting their plans, working methodically and with focused attention,”
“We at PTB are all incredibly proud of the work we’ve carried out for the National Theatre” notes PTB’s Managing Director, Nick Ewin’s. “It was fascinating, but incredibly challenging, to pick through the layers from the revolutionary original 1970s installation and on through all of the changes that had been made since. To do that as performances continued in the theatre was also a challenge, though one we have met before in other venues and so were confident we could achieve here. Everyone from PTB and the National worked very hard, but did a great job”