Dazzled by “Gloriana”

Have you ever been assaulted by the stage lighting of a
production? In the sixty-plus years since I saw my first play and opera (Carmen at the Cincinnati Zoo!), this is
the first time I have felt physically threatened by a lighting designer, Mimi
Jordan Sherin, who has lit Richard Jones’s otherwise imaginative, rewarding
revival of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana,
at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

            The
problems are two-fold: a bank of extraordinarily bright lights lining the top
back of the stage, which appeared to be on switched on for great stretches of
time; and tubes of intense coloured strip lighting over Ultz’s generally
amusing sets. My wife and I felt mugged by the headache-making intensity of the
lights shining in our eyes, and murmurings from those seated either side and in
front and behind us indicated that we were not alone in our suffering – and even
made to feel a bit sick by the duration and intensity of the aggressive
lighting. Fortunately for me, I had carelessly left a pair of sunglasses in a
jacket pocket, so was able to endure the punishment of the first half without
having to get up and leave the auditorium.

            Others were
not so lucky. At the interval I saw dozens and dozens of people leaving the
front doors, and a quick check showed that very few of them were standing on
the Bow Street pavement sneaking a quick fag. Some of these must have been ticket-holders
fleeing, not to save their lives, but their sight.

            Without
going into the other merits or demerits of the production, which I’ll save for
my review, I felt there was something sadistic, and wrong,  about punishing an innocent audience in this
way by half-blinding them. Surely this sort of really brutal, literally
in-yer-face lighting ought at least to carry a health warning? In Britain we
are used to seeing notices that caution audiences that “strobe lights are used
in this production.” What about this even more dangerous lighting?

           

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