Hot Box


Not About Nightingales is a never-before-performed play by Tennessee Williams that has now been seen in three venues: the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX, the Royal National's Cottesloe Theatre in London, and Circle in the Square in New York City. Brought to light by actress Vanessa Redgrave, this searing prison drama is coproduced by the Moving Theatre, a UK company run by Redgrave and her brother Corin (the two other co-producers were the Royal National and Alley Theatres). He appears as a deranged, punishing warden who pumps up the temperature as the men in cell block C stage a hunger strike in protest of poor prison conditions.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, the action takes place on a single set designed by Richard Hoover with lighting by Chris Parry. "Trevor wanted this prison to be very harsh, very controlling and dehumanized," says Parry, referring to his notes from the director. "'Control' is a useful word for the metaphor of this show, as everyone is being controlled somehow." The lighting is used to define different areas on the set, which has the cell block at one end and the warden's office at the other. Klondike, an airless room with steam heat used to punish prisoners, is the middle. The set is also monotone, with everything in shades of gray. A painted drop of a prison corridor gives depth to the set and is backlit with 500W Strand Coda floods in two shades of blue (Lee 201 and Lee 161).

"I devised ways of breaking up the long space," Parry notes. His color palette reflects the harshness required by Nunn, with Lee 201 and Lee 202 color-correction filters used in ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and pars. Three Strand Pollux 5kW fresnels are used behind the cell block, along with one 2.5kW HMI fresnel used to change the quality of the light when storm troopers arrive near the end of the second act. "The HMI is still very cold, bright, and harsh," says Parry, "but it offers a different quality of light when the outside world breaks in."

Much of the action takes place in the cell block, which Parry gave two looks, daytime when the prison lights are on, and evening after lights-out. DHA gobos of prison bars come from the front, while a DHA grill gobo (borrowed from Les Miz) adds the texture of an overhead catwalk. After lights-out, the cell block is lit from below. "The conceit is that maybe there's another layer of prison down there and the light filters up," explains Parry. "This is the only time there is slightly warm light. It's a very dim brown-gray."

Twenty-six PAR cans placed along the top of the cell unit push light downward onto the prisoners. "As they take up the chant for a hunger strike, these get brighter and brighter until they are at full intensity. Trevor wanted the passion and emotion to build to the point where it snaps off," Parry says. "Then there is an instant blackout at the end of Act I."

To create the over-heated, oven-like feeling in Klondike, Parry added a red glow that emanates from under floor grates and a blue glow from above to create a square area on the floor. "The lighting is not very complicated, but depends on mystery," notes Parry, who used low levels to create a murky atmosphere. MR-16s under the floor highlight the radiator pipes. The fog used in the scene adds a physical presence to the space. "With the fog, you can use the physicality to define the area you want the audience to see," says Parry. "You can see the patterns of the light in the air as well as on the floor."