Oh Yes They Do –  HSL Does Panto Season in Style

Oh Yes They Do – HSL Does Panto Season in Style

Lighting, rigging and visuals rental specialist HSL are embroiled in a hectic 2016-17 pantomime season, supplying lights, LED fixtures and rigging including one Kinesys automation system to 20 different productions for leading panto producer QDos, being staged up and down the country!

Some mind-boggling statistics include nearly 2000 intelligent lighting fixtures and over 500 generics, 100 plus Kilometres of cabling and over 2000 custom gobos … all of which were shipped out of HSL’s HQ in Blackburn in an operation that has been overall project managed by Jordan Hanson working closely with Emma Nolan and John Slevin.

Individual shows have been project managed by Andy Chatburn, who handled four productions; Mark Shakeshaft who also co-ordinated four; Sean McGlone, who looked after a whopping seven and John Slevin, who ensured that all ran smoothly for the largest single show, ‘Aladdin’ at the SECC’s Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow starring Marti Pellow. Jordan himself also PM’d four productions.

One of this years’ new venues was the London Palladium which featured ‘Cinderella’, lit by Ben Cracknel.

In addition to the impressive statistics being managed by Jordan and the team to get the kit needed to service and get these 20 pantos out the door and up-and-running within 10 days of one another, the process of communications was also complex and required great attention to detail.

Each show involved an LD, a production LX, a company manager plus all the different venue contacts and the various HSL projects  – a process that starts being planned many months in advance, ramping up to a crescendo throughout November and December as the designs, budgets and specs are finalised.

For this year’s featured panto, HSL headed south and visited Pete Watt’s lively and colourful scheme for “Robin Hood” at Southampton’s Mayflower. HSL supplied 48 moving lights and lots of LED PARs which were used together with substantial numbers of generics from the house rig.

‘Bright, colourful and inclusive’ was the goal in lighting this show explained Pete.

The Mayflower is a large theatre with a 2,300 capacity auditorium, so one starting point was to get the audience pulled into all the action onstage via the lighting, and also to have as much of the rig available for as much of the show as possible.

Using only four main LX bars with an ‘A’ bar on each over-stage and having the rest of the rig dotted around the FOH positions - around the pros, in the slips and along the balcony fronts - meant no lighting fixtures were obscured when some of the many scenic cloths were in - a scenario that can occur when stage space is particularly tight!

Ian Westbrook’s set design was bold and psychedelic in the true meme of panto, a peculiarly English performance phenomena blending slapstick humour and innuendo with the latest chartbusting hits and some jittery super-quick social and political comments thrown into a melting pot of fun for all the family!

Pete enjoys lighting panto because there’s a chance to think ‘out-of-the-box’ and he also finds himself pulling ideas from all the sectors in which he works – theatre, rock ‘n’ roll and festivals. “There’s nothing quite like a panto to unite multiple styles and disciplines of lighting and visuals,” he comments.

Audience participation is high on the agenda with any panto, and this also needs to be reflected in the lighting, so  another of Pete’s goals in Southampton was to pull in everyone, even those right at the back, which is another reason why he made extensive use of all the available off-stage positions.

The Robe ColorSpot 1200E ATs were the core of the overhead lighting rig, spread out on the over-stage bars and used for the basic illumination of actors, set and stage as well as effects like gobo work on the floor, set texturing, etc.

Positioned front-of-house were Robe Pointes a multi-purpose beam / spot luminaires, four on the stage left and right pros booms and eight on the advanced truss, utilized for all the funky and whizzy bits – of which there was an abundance! Zoomed out with frost added, they also made great washes and brighteners for the downstage area. “Pointes are extremely versatile and great for panto,” stated Pete.

Robe 300E Spots on the advanced truss were used for random highlighting and key lighting, as well as for front fill and pointing into the audience. Four more in the slips boxes, two on the floor at the bottom of the pros booms and another two in the boxes for side-fills and audience work also all contributed to the walk-in state, projecting gobos around the walls of the auditorium.

More ColorSpot 1200E ATs rigged on the sides of the circle-bar augmented the audience / pre-set looks and were used to pick up a 40 inch mirror ball flown downstage, while another four deployed on the circle front primarily dressed the cloths and projected the ‘wanted’ posters for the walk-in.

A single Martin MAC 3K in the middle of the dress circle was shuttered off to frame the cloths onstage, and used as an overall layer of soft-focussed texturing / colouring across the whole area – it’s one of Pete’s panto tricks for adding some subtle depth to the stage treatment.

Philips SL 150 LED PARs from HSL were placed on the three side booms and used to dress the set, cross over onto the floor and provide shin-buster level light for the dance sequences, with the other two on the circle front.

HSL also supplied over 100 metres of new Egg Strobe Festoons which were integrated into various set pieces.

Five Atomic strobes accompanied the thunder cracks every time the evil Sheriff of  Nottingham appeared .. and seven Philips eSTRIP 10 LED battens along the front of the stage in the footlight position were ideal for audience blinding moments.

In addition to all these elements, Pete utilized 206 house generic fixtures – a mix of different lensed Source Four profiles and fresnels, some PARs and 3-cell codas positioned around the rig.

In general, all the lights are worked hard and were maximised throughout the two and a half hour show which is a vehicle for leading soap stars Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace, well known and loved for their roles as Alfie and Kat Moon in long running series ‘EastEnders’.

Pete specified his moving lights based on getting the most fixtures possible for the budget because he feels that having more lightsources at your disposal is the best approach for panto to facilitate the wide variety of looks and effects needed.

The show was programmed by George Russell, who also worked on the other two pantos lit by Pete this year in Aberdeen and Wolverhampton. Lighting was run on the Mayflower’s house ETC Gio console by their technician Claire Baker.

“The service and support from HSL has been fantastic” said Pete, adding, “Sean (McGlone) project managed all of my shows and was very thorough at every stage of the process. Emma was rock-solid and unflappable in dealing with the custom gobos and other specialist requests”.

‘Robin Hood’ at the Mayflower was directed by Nick Winston, Aiden Jones was the Production LX and Pete Kramer the production manager.

Photo of Robin Hood by Louise Stickland

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