Lighting has become one of the most powerful forces for enhancing a theatrical production. With proper lighting, setting and atmosphere can be easily established in the absence of scenery. Moods and emotions can be affected through visual stimuli. Even dramatic and potentially dangerous effects can be achieved without putting performers or audiences members at risk. Perhaps some of the best examples of these principles can be found in the popular theatrical production of War Horse.
War Horse was adapted for the stage in 2007 and was a large undertaking. The story includes multiple characters that are not human, but interestingly enough, horses. These horses are remarkable and are meant to be the visual focus of the play while on stage. Because of this, scenery has been kept to a minimum. Lighting and projection take over to establish what would normally be the responsibility of a scenic designer.
Lighting designer Paule Constable was faced with the challenge of bringing the rural countryside and the battlefield to life on the same stage, without the support of normal scenery. This was masterfully achieved in her award-winning design.
An ordinary lighting design may rely on typical 45 degree angles of light, and usually draws its strongest source of light from directly in front of the stage. Constable’s design for War Horse used a number of unusual angles and often relied on the backlight as the strongest source. This helped define large silhouettes of horses, tanks and battalions and also created a dramatic visual effect.
The design also manipulated properties of light in very successful ways. The settings were well defined through the projected textures and colors of light used. Properly simulated daylight and moonlight is not always as easy as it sounds, but Constable had no trouble communicating location and time of day. Her night scenes relied on the perfect shades of cool white light combined with the right amount of blue tones. The daylight scenes varied just as natural light does in the real world. A cloudy day looks different than a sunny day, and even this effect was properly achieved.
Atmosphere and location are not the only enhancements Constable provided with her lighting. The gunfire and explosives used on a WWI battlefield undoubtedly provided intense flashes of light and other unique forms of illumination. Constable was able to very effectively simulate these lighting effects with the use of Atomic 3000 strobe lights and other instruments programmed to duplicate the light of explosions. The use of actual explosives on stage is obviously dangerous, and the lighting design was able give wonderful effects while keeping performers and audience members safe.
There is no doubt that lighting plays a major role in War Horse and that Paule Constable has created the perfect design for this play. There are many plays that illustrate the importance of a well executed lighting design, but in my opinion, War Horse is one of the best. Her artistic and technical efforts are evidence of the fact that lighting has become a very powerful force in the world of theatrical.
Mulcahy, Lisa. “A day in the Lighting Life”. Stage Direction Magazine. March 6th, 2012.
Harper, Julie. “War Horse” Article. Lighting and Sound Magazine. January 2008