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Kathy & Stella Becomes First West-End Show to Use Macula System Thanks to White Light

Currently running at the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End, Kathy & Stella Solve a Murder! is an award-winning musical comedy which follows Kathy & Stella – hosts of Hull’s least successful true crime podcast. However, when their favourite author is killed, the pair find themselves thrust into a thrilling whodunnit of their own. The show features a lighting design by Peter Small who approached White Light (WL), a d&b solutions company, to supply his rig, having previously done so for the show’s Bristol and Manchester run. For the London production, an addition to the rig included the Macula remote follow-spot System – distributed in the UK by Sound Technology Ltd – making the show the first in West End history to use this ground-breaking technology.

Kathy & Stella arrives in London following its previous sell-out runs in Edinburgh, Manchester and Bristol. Peter describes it as ‘a big, fun, in-your-face musical that’s packed with comedy and colour. It’s busy and fast and the pace and tempo just keeps increasing as the night goes on!”. Being a comedy, a musical and a whodunit, the show covers a variety of genres – all of which Peter had to encompass into his lighting design. He explains: “The lighting works very hard to support the fast-paced storytelling, which features numerous musical numbers which each have their own identity and aesthetic. On top of that, the lighting has almost empathetic qualities, moving with the characters ebb and flow of energy during certain moments. My challenge was to hit all of these emotive and technical briefs yet do so within the contained, boxed-in nature of the set”.

Prior to its transfer to the West End, the show, naturally, underwent several changes, from its original staging through to now. However, it would need to continue changing when it eventually arrived in the capital. Peter states: “The main challenge for us was trying to fit the show into The Ambassador’s which is by far our smallest theatre to date! This took a lot of close work across departments and the theatre to ensure everything could fit. Safe to say the theatre is full, wall to wall, top to bottom. We’ve even removed the theatres’ equipment substage and stored it off site to make space for racks and follow spot controllers”.

This confined space meant that Peter had to be meticulous with his lighting design and find new solutions to be both creative yet practical – which is where the Macula system came into play. Macula is a fixture-agnostic remote-controlled followspot system, offering unprecedented performance thanks to its incredibly high-resolution fluid head and simple, yet powerful, software control. Perfect for venues in which traditional followspot solutions just aren’t feasible, it gives users the organic feel of handling a followspot and is compatible with numerous manufacturers’ fixtures.

He comments: “Previously, we had used traditional follow spots but the limited space within The Ambassadors meant this just wouldn’t be possible. That said, my design utilised the spots, in this case Ayrton Eurus, almost the entire time with many fast moving targets (people whizzing about on modified desk chairs with rollerblade wheels on!) so I had to find some sort of solution to make this work. Whilst it had yet to be used on a West End show, I’d seen the Macula System at various tradeshows before, and so asked WL’s Stuart Porter to arrange a demonstration of the equipment for this production. I was keen to be able to use a fixture of my choice, that would be bright, responsive, stable and have the support to enable a smooth process as we set-up home at the Ambassadors.

He comments: “I’m delighted to say that using the Macula system was a complete success. Once the system was up and running, the operators quickly got their head around it and were using it with complete ease. As we fine-tuned the show, the system itself brought forward some quite interesting revelations. For example, it allowed us to program all the fade ups which resulted in a much smoother pickup rather than the operator trying to control the intensity fader and follow at the same time. Similarly, it also allowed for the (expected) perks of snap blackouts etc. In short, it’s a system which paid dividends on this production and which I would use again a heartbeat”.

Alongside the Macula System, Peter’s rig consisted of SIXPARS, Viper Performances, Auras, ColorSource Spots, various atmospherics and a slew of generics. There is also a significant array of practical lighting, including metres of LED tape, LED pixel festoons, LED neons, light boxes, light bulb signs, fake fluorescent fittings, pendants, smaller practical lamps, fairy lights, rope lights, LED tubes, disco lights and mirror balls, custom-commissioned wireless practicals (light up phones and books) as well as a brand new concept in making a light up Laptop (software provided by Doug Finlay).

Peter explains: “The SIXPARs are the DNA of the design, given the whole rig is visible and largely symmetric (by choice). These are most prevalent as a toplight grid which is used for power and impact as well as a plethora of effects and ways of breaking up the space. This logic is repeated in a sidelight system with the high component being Auras which then can do various focuses in the air/stage/house when not resting in a pipe end focus. Mixed in with the high amount of LED sources is a lot of tungsten to cut through it all and just glowing them into the design can really make a costume pop or fill out a picture. I’ve enjoyed pulling at the extremes of a big, strong saturated LED look and then going to a very dim solo tungsten source. The show is ultimately very human and it’s important to me to have that tungsten element firmly in the mix”.

WL’s Hire Business Development Manager Stuart Porter states: “We’re thrilled to be working with Peter on this show – even more so due to the fact that this marks the first time that the Macula System has been used in the West End. As a company, our ethos is to work closely with designers and ensure we provide with them exact tools and technology to bring their design to life – which is exactly what we did on this occasion. Given this initial success, I’m sure the Macula system will now be part of many West End lighting designs moving forward”.

Kathy & Stella Solve a Murder! opened at The Ambassador’s Theatre last week and will run until 14th September 2024.

Photo courtesy of Ellie Kurttz.

Lighting Team Credits

Lead Production Electrician – Martin Chisnall

Production Electrician – Helen Willis

Production Electrician – Theo Chadha

Production Electrician – James Smellie

Production Electrician (BOV/Manchester) – Tim Jackson

Lighting Programmer (West End) – Tom Davis

Lighting Programmer (BOV/Manchester) – Tom Mulliner

Associate Lighting Designer (Edinburgh/BOV/Manchester) – Beth Gupwell

Practicals by Junction Inc, James Smellie and Doug Finlay

Mike Gunning and the team at Bristol Old Vic LX!

Louise Houlihan and the team at White Light!