The technical team at the National Theatre have been working tirelessly since August to re-purpose its venues in the face of Covid-19 restrictions. A Covid-secure performance of Dick Whittington 'in-the-round' in a newly-configured Olivier theatre opened on 11 December - only to be closed shortly thereafter due to London’s Tier 3 restrictions - whilst the Lyttelton Theatre has been temporarily transformed into a film studio for the upcoming Romeo & Juliet original film. In both instances, Martin MAC Encores from the theatre's in-house lighting resources proved highly flexible core fixtures in the respective lighting rigs.

"Our investment in MAC Encore units has proven invaluable over the last few months as the National Theatre has adapted to the current restrictions for live indoor performances.” commented Paul Hornsby, Lighting Resources Manager, National Theatre. “We found with Dick Whittington that the units were called into use in a way not envisioned when we first bought them - big splashes of bold colour moving around the auditorium creating a magical environment for cast and audience alike. And again, in the Lyttelton Theatre, creating wonderful colour temperature controlled soft light boxes for filming Romeo & Juliet.”

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Image above: Soft light boxes used for filming in the Lyttelton Theatre, each consisting of 4 x MAC Encore Wash and 1 x MAC Viper Performance.

For Dick Whittington, directed by Ned Bennett and with lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun, a total of 55 Martin MAC Encores are in the rig – comprising 31 x MAC Encore Performance Warm, 16 x Performance Cold and 8 x Warm Washes.

They are mostly positioned on bars over-head, with a couple on US ladder positions and four units are front of house. With the Olivier Theatre re-modelled in the round to achieve a capacity of 500 seats while maintaining social distancing for audiences, the MAC Encore’s flexibility and near-silent operation, proved vital considering their proximity to the audience.

Jack Champion, Lighting Supervisor, National Theatre, said, “The MAC Encores are the workhorses of the show, used in every scene for all general cover, providing some of the effects used in the songs, and used for specific shots for character pic ups on the stage in the round. They even light some of the giant mirror balls at the end of the show. They are bright enough to cover the stage with relatively few units, and quiet enough to be able to sit in the auditorium without causing distractions to the audience.”

Meanwhile, the Lyttelton theatre has been re-purposed as a film studio for the upcoming Romeo & Juliet film due for release on Sky Arts and PBS in 2021. Romeo & Juliet was originally to have played to theatre audiences in the NT’s Olivier auditorium from summer 2020. Reconceived for the screen, this new 90-minute version is being shot with a collaborative team of theatre and film experts, embracing the architecture of the theatre space in telling the story.

The lighting rig used includes 32 x MAC Encore Performances, 65 x MAC Encore Washes, 9 x MAC Viper Performances, 11 x MAC Viper Washes.

Michael Harpur, Senior Lighting Technician, National Theatre explained, "We created 9 x 8ft square light boxes, each consisting of 4 x MAC Encore Washes and a MAC Viper Performance. This was to create a controllable large soft light source above the stage. We have also used some Encore fixtures on flight cases for a scene specific specials which can be brought up and then moved quickly. Given the manageable size and weight of the Encore units, it made them and ideal choice."

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Image above : Martin MAC Encore bounced on mirror through glass to create a special for the Friars Cell

Paul Hornsby concluded, “After 6 months of being dark, all 156 units went through a comprehensive maintenance schedule in record time proving to be efficient and easy to maintain units. They are consistently proving to be the must have unit in each production or project we undertake.”

With London now entering Tier 3 COVID restrictions, performances of Dick Whittington have regrettably been cancelled from Wednesday 16 December – Saturday 2 January 2021. It will be available to watch for free on the National Theatre YouTube channel from 3pm (UK time) on 23 December then on demand until midnight (UK time) on 27 December 2020. The Romeo and Juliet original film is due for release on Sky Arts / PBS in Spring 2021.

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