Written by Quality Street Lighting Designer, Joe Price
Within my field, it is quite rare for a job opportunity to be advertised online, with the vast majority of work coming through word-of-mouth. So, when I saw that a highly reputable company like Northern Broadsides were advertising for a Lighting Designer for their Spring tour of J. M. Barrie’s regency rom-com Quality Street, it was an easy decision to submit an application. There was a desire to work with a northern artist and thankfully my Sheffield roots shone through enough to help me land the position and with it the chance to light in some of the most prestigious venues of my career.
The initial brief threw up some sizeable challenges, not least the fact that the show would be created in a traverse set-up in the Viaduct Theatre at Broadsides HQ in Halifax, before touring to venues with both end-on and in-the-round set-ups. The design needed to be extremely flexible and versatile. I was brought in for initial design discussions and meetings well in advance of rehearsals, which is always of tremendous benefit as it allows for full collaboration and any potential obstacles to be highlighted early on. These conversations brought about numerous ideas, many of which did not make the final cut, including having long stretches of pixel LED tape built in to the set, that could create the impression of a busy factory in motion. Oh and a pipe and tap with running chocolate!
As the project developed and elements were refined the focus turned to creating a sense of naturalism, with long almost imperceptible fades to give the impression of the setting sun. Furthermore, a good deal of research was undertaken to ensure the practical lamps we used had the historically accurate appearance of those used in the early 1800’s (Carcel Oil Lamps, in case you are interested!) Sound Designer and Composer Nick Sagar was also working on a fabulous regency disco mega-mix, to which the cast would perform a choreographed dance routine, and it felt right to support this with suitably garish lighting. I matched several colour filter choices to Quality Street chocolate wrappers, which worked wonderfully during the movement sequence. However, we later decided that, within the following scene, they clashed with the costumes (the colours of which were also inspired by the famous chocolates), so the lighting was stripped back to starker blues and cold tones that helped give the impression of a moonlit arbour.
The show opened to great acclaim and successfully transferred to all three staging set-ups. However, the tour was unfortunately cut short following the Coronavirus outbreak. This was of particular disappointment to me as I had a potential agent coming to see the work. Nevertheless though, life goes on! I have taken on a temporary job as a delivery driver for Iceland and have tried to dedicate my spare time to learning new skills and software, whilst taking advantage of the abundance of theatre made available for streaming. Seeing the industry’s reaction to the crisis has been truly heart-warming and I feel hopeful that Quality Street will one day be performed again in front of enthralled audiences. For now though I will reflect on a special experience that allowed me to collaborate with some exceptional artists in a range of majestic spaces, and reminded me to remain flexible, calm and positive no matter what life throws at you.