Back in September when it was announced that theatres could play to socially-distanced audiences, this saw a range of venues prepare for their re-opening. One of these included the Charing Cross Theatre which re-opened with the world premiere of GH Boy. The lighting designer was Tony Simpson, who approached White Light to supply the lighting equipment.
GH Boy is a brand-new piece of writing which aims to tackle the misconceptions around gay culture and promiscuity. Set in the burgeoning party scene of East London, it focuses on Robert, who has to cope with tragedy and addiction, all whilst avoiding the wrath of an unnamed killer. Prior to its Charing Cross run, the show was originally going to play at The Vaults. Tony explains: “We were initially supposed to be opening in April and heading into the Waterloo tunnels. We had site visits, meetings and I’d even formulated a design. Then the outbreak of Covid happened and the entire production had to be pulled”.
Like many other freelance designers, Tony found his entire workload for the rest of the year suddenly disappear. He remarks: “It was an incredibly worry time as overnight my diary just emptied. Like most freelancers in the industry, I wasn’t sure where the next pay cheque was coming from and this continues to be the case for so many”.
It was in the second week of September that Tony would receive an email which would offer him his first project in months; one which would see him literally pick up where he finished back in March: “I got an email from Paul Harvard, the writer and lead producer of GH Boy. He told me he’d received some emergency fund money and that GH Boy had been chosen to re-open the Charing Cross Theatre. It was completely out of the blue yet something I of course leapt at the chance to do”.
GH Boy would play at a stripped-down Charing Cross Theatre that would have 90 seats as opposed to the normal 250+. The company would have to rehearse in the space as well as comply to all of the government guidelines and be frequently tested. Tony explains: “We were all so keen to just get the work on but equally as keen to be safe. On day one, all of the company were given a Covid test. Similarly, everyone was wearing masks and maintained social distancing. It was incredibly well thought out and testament to the producer’s planning”.
The Charing Cross Theatre is the only theatre in Central London that is set up ‘in the round’. As such, it was perfect for GH Boy. Tony explains: “The Vaults show was going to be in traverse so thankfully it was a very similar set-up. My design has to change, mainly as at The Vaults you have to account for infrastructure, racks, rigging; all of which the Charing Cross had. As such, when it came to the hire, I was able to focus on obtaining the specific fixtures I needed to help tell this story”.
For his rig, Tony drew on Martin MAC Aura XBs, a fixture he regularly uses on smaller scale studio productions. For the crosslight positions, he used 4 x GLP Impressions X4 Bar 20s, which offered great coverage but were also very quiet; a necessity for the show. He also used a single Vari Light 2600, meaning his rig was all LED and incredibly flexible. He explains: “The play moves at a very fast pace and the director wanted the light to help steer where we were in terms of location. For instance, the main action takes place in a therapy studio so we wanted a warm, safe feel for these scenes. Whereas in the outdoor scenes, or those set in a nightclub, we wanted something much different. The lighting essentially became the backbone of the production and help guide the audience through the story”.
Tony and the team had a five-and-a-half-day technical rehearsal before their first preview on Wednesday 4th November. However, this first preview was going to be their last, with the government announcing a new national lockdown that was to begin the very next day. Tony explains: “We were all incredibly disappointed that after all of our hard work, this was cut short by the new measures and that we were back to square one. However, putting on a show during a global pandemic is somewhat extraordinary and I’m so proud to be part of this production”.
Tony concludes: “While it’s been a slightly surreal year, and this production was no exception, what was fantastic was knowing that WL was there as a constant support throughout. I have a long-standing relationship with the company and want to thank them, particularly Dave Isherwood, for all of their support with GH Boy. It truly is a special project and we cannot wait to share it again with audiences next month”.