Illuminating The Stage

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SUNDAY FEATURE20171225

With flickering candles dispelling the darkness, Fiona Shaw illuminates stage light.

"Without light there is no space". Robert Wilson

With glowing lights dispelling the dark of the season, Fiona Shaw explores theatrical lighting.

"I have worked for nearly four decades in the theatre, mainly as an actress, but in the last decade, I've dared to cross the footlights and direct a series of operas - the first thing I discovered was how central to any theatrical event, lighting is. When it's good, everything is good... but when it's bad... oh dear. Did you know it was the lighting that held your avid attention in that opera, play or dance? And is why you can remember it today?"

For thousands of years, audiences had been spellbound by the ingenious use of mirrors, sunlight and fire; the use of candlelight in the early modern English theatre is described by delighted witnesses, and it's revealed in the play texts at the Globe as much as in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London. We'll hear about the brilliant pageants and theatre lighting designs of Inigo Jones - as ingenious then as the marvels we find today.

We explore our deep, atavistic relationship to light - invisible and material light - and what that means to the space, design, and for the words. We'll bask in the limelight with some of the world's greatest lighting obsessives: the contemporary theatre-making master of light, Robert Wilson; Deborah Warner and Simon McBurney; lighting designers Paule Constable, Jean Kalman and Peter Mumford; stage designer Michael Levine and historians Martin White and Scott Palmer - and actor Edward Petherbridge.

"Today stage lighting is more crucial than ever - challenged by the addictive LED of screens and the private drama that sits in computers; the flamboyant lighting of our streets and shops. The world is more lit and the lighting more complicated, so that a show - a play, a dance, an opera - needs a lighting designer to make sense of the almost infinite choices."

A Cast Iron Radio production for BBC Radio 3.