Written for Kate & Sam Lighting Designers for a trade publication.
The The ~ back on tour
K&S Lighting have designed The The’s Comeback Tour 2018 with Kate Wilkins as show designer, exploring the complex impact of light and sound on human perception. The result of this clever collaboration with musician Matt Johnson and video artist Vicki Bennett is a blending of light, sound, form and music – a truly multi dimensional performance touring international venues including the Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House until the end of the year.
Chapters in a concert
By dividing the performance into three distinct ‘chapters’, the audience are taken on an emotional and visceral journey, tapping into the essence of human psychology in a very powerful way. The design team remained loyal to Johnson’s initial brief, “more theatre and less rock and roll, familiar but different”, carefully considering each act, Political, Emotional and Metaphysical in spatial, visual and emotional terms ensuring a flowing performance that connects with our deepest emotions, avoiding the usual bite sized song approach.
Themes of life and death
The narrative of the music is the thread from which the visual and cinematic follow – well observed themes of life and death overlap with intertia, capitalism, globalisation and consumerism that are so pertinent in our modern world. Indeed the show’s timeline follows the natural, cyclical rise of the sun in the east and setting in the west, a subtle reference to our relationship with time, our lack of control over it and quest for a decelerated way of life.
Lighting as an intuitive language trigger
Wilkins uses colour tonalities of light as an intuitive language triggering a range of human emotion – vulnerability, pain, joy – the reaction is both a highly individual and collectively emotional experience. Many of the songs in the first act, Political, were written in Johnsons younger years and are loaded with politically charged and prophetic lyrics, songs like ‘Armageddon Days’ written in 1989 talk of the impending clash between Christianity and Islam. Wilkins approach was to strip away any distractions and use a stark, monochrome film noir effect, using 6000K and London greys to create atmosphere. By using scale, the stage appears austere and the focus remains firmly on the band and their facial expressions, stripped of the predictable light show effect.
Emotional and Metaphysical
In contrast, act two – Emotional – is concerned with themes of love, loss and bereavement. Wilkins wanted to create an intimate stage, bringing on large, physical lights to create a smaller, studio effect bringing the focus back to centre stage. K&S chose 2700K – 2400K for calm, nostalgia and romance, akin to candle light. The warm glow draws the audience closer to the vulnerability of the singer and his reflective lyrics. And finally, Metaphysical presents a dramatic last chapter of the performance beginning with a projection directly onto Johnson’s face which in turn creates giant shadows onto a screen which fills the stage and backdrop. The music is absorbed in a sea of imagery and cleverly curated shadow play effects. Blue and lavender lighting creates a sense of otherworldliness, accessing the third eye, shutting down active thought and encouraging the audience to transport themselves to a higher consciousness.
The encore is an uplifting closing sequence, with solos and shared camaraderie between performers and audience. Wilkins borrowed techniques used in 1940’s jazz shows, using classic treatments, waking up the audience, providing warm, bright light and energy.
Enhancing the audience experience through lighting
The tour has grown to include festival halls, festivals and opera houses presenting a challenge to design the show as scale-able, taking advantage of size, height, heritage and architectural features wherever possible. Using light as a creative medium, with techniques drawn from architecture, theatre, film and music, K&S Lighting Design have proven their talent to connect with and enhance audience experience, giving it real depth. The result is a poignant, thought provoking and beautiful experience that will be enjoyed again and again in the coming months.