Paule Constable uses Martin MAC Ultras and Encores for the immersive artistry of Guys & Dolls
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Paule Constable uses Martin MAC Ultras and Encores for the immersive artistry of Guys & Dolls

Header image credit: Manuel Harlan

The highly-acclaimed immersive production of Guys & Dolls, directed by Nicholas Hytner at London’s Bridge Theatre, called on all the lighting design skills of leading creative Paule Constable.


Based on Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical comedy about sin and romantic salvation, the creative team’s in-the-round transformation of the theatre auditorium required the lighting to deliver a production taking place on a series of constantly moving lifts. The scenography itself is dominated by Bunny Christie’s mobile stage, with different platforms rising to reveal New York City’s bars, clubs and street corners, and different worlds created in a set that is constantly being reconstructed.

 Guys & Dolls at The Bridge Theatre lit by Paule Constable
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

The need to meet such an exacting creative brief required the theatre’s rental company supplier, Sparks Theatrical Hire to add a further 16 Martin MAC Ultra Performance moving heads to their existing stock to meet widespread demand from theatre LDs—including Constable.


The reason for the profile spot’s enormous popularity is its stupendous power output (46,500 projection lumens) combined with its advanced framing system. Justifying the further investment, Sparks’ director Paul Anderson’s own assessment is that they are “not only stunningly bright, but the dimming is very smooth, and as you would expect, the framing shutters, iris, and frost make this an extremely versatile unit for the theatre environment, not to mention an impressive range of gobos.”


Paule Constable clearly thinks so too. Speaking of her decision making process when working on a show with the audience entirely wrapped around the action, the designer said, “First and foremost it was driven by logistics. The scenic design was based on 14 lifts and around 50 flown light boxes and signs. Therefore we had to negotiate getting around these, and the sound design was a circular array—so logistics were not easy.”


She then needed to ensure that she had access to light every lift and every level that the show required. “And with a series of lifts that are constantly moving that was a big ask.”

The densely packed central grid of Guys & Dolls at The Bridge Theatre lit by Paule Constable, featuring multiple MAC Encores and Ultras

With logistics taken care of, she then had to follow the creative brief. “Bunny [Christie] and I based many of our conversations on the photographs of Ernst Haas and the movies of Stanley Kubrick,” she explained. “We wanted a period feel that we then heightened to make more contemporary.  That was the brief for all of us … to make something respectful of the period but also entirely contemporary in feeling—sort of like Blade Runner 2049, in that it is set in the future, but has a sense of the 50s.”

As for her choice of lighting, she confessed, “[MAC] Encores have become a go-to unit for me—they are so brilliant.  Because of rigging issues we had to custom rig every position we used, therefore we couldn’t put lots of kit up; we had to strip it back to a simple system with one unit being the workhorse for both doing detailed work and saturated colour and live moves and that could carve a look out of the space and give us good beam definition.  

“The Encore easily does all these things so I was confident that it would make a good workhorse for the show. And in the places where I needed a bigger, beefier, thicker key light the [MAC] Ultras delivered that scale of gesture and worked well with the Encores."


The MAC Encore Performance delivered a further advantage, she said, since it responds well to the Bridge’s Zactrack automated follow spot system which is in heavy use. “The Encore gives us the flexibility and quality of light that suited a self-conscious follow spotted look, which is what we need in some of the numbers.”

Guys & Dolls at The Bridge Theatre lit by Paule Constable
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Constable notes that the overall colour palette for the show draws on much use of acid yellow.  “And both the Encores and the Ultras delivered this really well,” she observed.

“If you think about a number like If I Were A Bell … the Ultras could give us a super thick deep blue base note and the Encores as spots create that cool showbiz glamour."

"In the number Luck Be A Lady the Ultras create the gobos world that supports the look of the number—in an acid green—that then works with the coolness of the Encores. They mix really well … they can hold their own in contrast with each other but they can also be very sympathetic.”

Because scenery is confined to a number of lifts and signs, much of the story narrative has to be carried by the lighting. “Therefore, it’s important to have a particular ‘look’ for each of the spaces the show is in. So for instance the street has a particular look, as does the nightclub … Havana … the Mission.  You need to signpost for the audience where they are, the scale of the space, and whether it is interior or exterior.” And this unique partnership with the audience depends heavily on the lighting.


Amusingly when lighting the songs in the nightclub (the Hotbox) Paule Constable created an alter ego called ‘Bob’. “He was a tricky chap,” she explained, “but loved the girls and liked to make them look good!  It’s probably because I’m not known for being a ‘showy’ lighting designer—I rarely use saturated colour or effects—so when I had to do something like this I had to pretend I was someone else!” she says, in qualification.

Guys & Dolls at The Bridge Theatre lit by Paule Constable
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Finally, asked whether there were any particular attributes she draws on with the MACs, Paule Constable didn’t have to think. “I always use the heavy frost in the units—it makes them much more flexible.  Beyond that I just wind them up and let them go.


“I can’t imagine lighting any show without an Encore or two!”


The designer was supported by the Bridge’s in house technical team, led by head of lighting, Adrian Hampton. She also had her own support team in the form of Rob Casey for Ammonite as lead Associate, Tom Turner as second Associate and Warren Letton as Programmer.   Additional drafting was done by Michael Harper and the practicals and signs were developed in collaboration with the Bridge team and Matt Roper at Ammonite.

The Guys & Dolls run at The Bridge Theatre has now been extended until 24th Feburary 2024. Find out more here!

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