The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved story Matilda arrived in London in November after opening in Stratford last year – and the show has immediately been hailed as a five-star smash by the critics and audiences alike.
Described as ‘utterly exhilarating’, ‘hilarious, moving and magical’, ‘gleefully nasty’ and an ‘absolute cracker,’ the show has been created by the long-established team of director Matthew Warchus, designer Rob Howell and lighting designer Hugh Vanstone. Vanstone described his aim as being to make the lighting “playful and colourful, to extend the wonky angled Flintstone-like quality embedded in Rob Howell’s superb design.”
The show was first created on the thrust stage of the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre; some re-thinking was therefore required for the show’s transfer into the pros-arch Cambridge Theatre. “While the spirit of the design remained the same, given the opportunity for a re-vamp I re-shaped and improved my design as we made the transition to a pros,” Vanstone notes.
A common factor across the two versions was entertainment lighting specialist White Light, who Vanstone turned to for elements of the rig in Stratford and the complete rig in London, continuing a long-running collaboration that this past year alone has seen White Light supply the rigs for both Vanstone’s The Wizard of Oz and Shrek.
For Matilda in London, White Light has supplied a conventional rig that includes ETC Source Four Profiles and Source Four Pars, L&E Nano-Strip M11 striplights, High End Dataflash strobes, Robert Juliat Cyrano followspots, and a diverse selection of moving lights ranging from Vari*Lite VL500s, VL3000Q Washes and VL1000AS Spots to Martin Mac700 Profiles and MacIII units in both Profile and Performance form, plus twelve of JB Lighting’s JBLED A7 Zoom LED washlights and twelve Thomas PixelLine LED battens. Alongside the lighting fixtures, White Light has supplied effects including Look Solutions Viper and Power Tiny smoke machines and Unique hazers, MDG Atmosphere haze machines plus Big Shot confetti cannons. The rig is controlled by an MA grandMA Light control console. Vanstone is also making use of two RSC Lightlock lighting stabilisers to allow him to rig moving lights on short drift bars without the bars oscillating every time the lights moved. “Given the precision focuses deployed from these two FOH units, the Lightlocks work spectacularly well,” the designer notes.
White Light even added a new element to the show during the London rehearsal period. “At the Courtyard, we used Par Cans and the architecture of the theatre to create the Chokey – a heinous solitary confinement/torture device designed by Miss Trunchbull which she uses to incarcerate each and every one of her pupils,” Vanstone explains. “In London, Matthew Warchus came up with the idea of using lasers instead, and my associate Tim Lutkin worked with White Light’s Darren Howard to come up with a thrilling effect at the Cambridge.” Howard and a team from White Light spent one Sunday in the theatre installing twelve lasers, creating a dramatic effect that has thrilled the director, lighting designer and audiences.
“White Light’s service and expertise was exemplary both on the original Stratford production and now at the Cambridge,” Vanstone notes. “They helped me squeeze the show I wanted into the budget available and, as always, were a pleasure to work with.”
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Matilda The Musical is playing now at the Cambridge Theatre in London, the production directed by Matthew Warchus, choreographed by Peter Darling, designed by Rob Howell with lighting by Hugh Vanstone, sound by Simon Baker and illusions created by Paul Kieve. Working with Vanstone were associate lighting designer Tim Lutkin, production electrician Caroline Burrell, RSC lighting supervisor Andy Taylor, programmers Chris Hirst and Stuart Cross plus the Cambridge Theatre’s lighting team.
Matilda continues White Light’s long association with both the Cambridge Theatre (where the company supplied the rig for Chicago for many years prior to the show’s transfer to the Garrick), and with the RSC, for which White Light has supplied the rigs for countless productions, continues to supply the lighting to Les Mis in the West End, and distributes the RSC’s innovative Lightlock in the UK.
Matilda has already been nominated for nine awards in the WhatsOnStage.com awards, while Vanstone has been nominated in the White Light-sponsored Best Lighting Designer category, albeit for his work on a different show, the musical Ghost.