The announcement — followed by immediate ticket sales — of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, was a reminder of the Eighties and Nineties, when a new West End musical was a genuine theatrical event, rather than a transparent attempt to cash-in on an already well-known franchise, like Dirty Dancing, Sister Act or — er — Love Never Dies. It was also a reminder of a period when the talk after the show was as much — sometimes more — about the set than the songs, perhaps most famously Miss Saigon, where a full-sized helicopter landed on stage.
This year I’ve seen much more dance and experimental theatre than traditional shows, and have been consistently dazzled by the simple spectacle of bare stages, tight performances and creative lighting. Whether at the Edinburgh Fringe, Sadlers Wells or converted warehouses in London, the year’s most memorable moments have not been those that attempt to replicate reality, but those that create their own consistent worlds, conceptual rather than concrete. And the man behind many of them, including last week’s beautiful, simple Afterlight at Sadlers Wells, was lighting designer Michael Hulls, best known for his work with Russell Maliphant. Here’s a demonstration of his work in Maliphant’s recent collaboration with Robert Lepage and Sylvie Guillem, Eonnagata, which I wrote about earlier this year.
Dance theatre is the perfect playground for lighting designers, because you can’t clutter up the stage with props. Consequently, dance designers work with suggestion and projection, rather than with complex sets. Here’s a look at Wayne McGregor’s Entity, which I wrote about last year:
Entity creates an entire, vivid, complete world of its own on stage, a sci-fi adventure in dance. So does this mean that there’s no place for funfairs, sewers and helicopters? Not necessarily. But before they set about recreating reality, particularly at West End budgets — the Broadway production of Spider-Man is rumoured to cost more than $40 million — producers should perhaps be calling Michael Hulls, or Wayne McGregor’s designer Lucy Carter, before applying for that loan.