The Royal Shakespeare Company with its permanent home in Stratford-upon-Avon needs little introduction. Its main house, the 1018-seat Royal Shakespeare Theatre underwent an enormous rebuild and refurbishment between 2007-2010, and its smaller Swan Theatre (469 capacity) has recently reopened in April 2023 after a year-long post-pandemic refurbishment.

Both houses have had Ayrton fixtures installed for the first time, replacing failing lighting stock with Ayrton Diablo and Eurus fixtures specified by the RSC head of lighting, Kevin Sleep.

“Those most urgently in need of replacement were some of the moving heads in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) which we replaced with Ayrton Eurus S in May 2022,” explains Sleep. “We needed a bright LED replacement so chose 9 Eurus S for their extra punch. The S models have slightly paler shades but we wanted their extra power in these positions to give lighting designers the option to punch over the top of standard lighting states. We also liked the gobo mix, and the ability to morph them together was an added bonus that gave us lots of effects.”

Sleep was familiar with Ayrton from his previous position as head of lighting at the English National Opera in London, having thoroughly researched the range with the aid of Paul Roughton of Stage Electrics. “Pre-pandemic, the RSC team had also looked at the Ayrton range as possible options,” he says. “We contacted Paul who arranged further demos at the RSC, and we all agreed that, in comparisons with other manufacturers, Ayrton had the edge for our purposes.”

A second tranche of investment came in March 2023, focusing on the Swan Theatre: “As the Swan work was underway, we looked next at what could be achieved with available budgets. A priority was to replace our 100+ noisy, elderly colour scrollers with something that would give a wider a range of design opportunities, and as flexible a rig as possible.

“We therefore chose to increase the number of moving heads and purchased 15 Eurus TC (True Colour) and 8 of the smaller siblings, Diablo TC, as dedicated Swan fixtures. These are now the mainstay of the Swan’s movers and are rigged in optimum positions as front, side, back and top light.

“We chose the TC versions for their superb colour rendering; with a shorter throw distance in the Swan than the RST, this was more important than the extra power, but the Diablo especially is very punchy and fits into all the small spaces. “The rotation of the framing system module of +/- 60deg is also a bonus and big help on awkward angles.

“Both Eurus and Diablo are also very quiet. We run them on Quiet Mode, but when the head of sound passed comment on the quietness of the Swan auditorium, that was a true tribute to the noise levels!

The Eurus TC fixtures are hung on the overhead truss bars and, while larger than Diablo, are “still smaller than many others in their class,” says Sleep. “The result is a versatile rig that gives us all we wanted, plus added capability, in a vast improvement on what we had before.

 “Across both houses, Ayrton is starting to give us huge savings with vastly reduced reliance colour gel strings that the colour scrollers needed, in addition to the energy savings and low maintenance costs afforded by the LED sources,” confirms Sleep.

With money still left in the budget, the lighting team then invested in a further 6 Eurus TC fixtures for the RST.

“The feedback from lighting designers and programmers on all the Ayrton fixtures has been very good,” says Sleep. “In general they have commented on the punchiness of the Eurus S and found the units to be very responsive, quiet and reliable in returning to position.” Johanna Town, chair of the ALPD and LD for The Tempest which ran in the RST from January-March 2023, says, “I loved the Eurus’ big, bright, superb flat field, and its great colour temperature. All in all, it’s a very useable unit. I would happily – and probably will be – using them again soon.”

Claire Gerrens, the programmer for Lee Curran’s lighting of Julius Caesar in the RST in from 18 March – 8 April 2023, and re-lighter of its nine-date tour of England, had plenty of opportunity to get to know the Eurus and Diablo fixtures on tour: “Both Eurus and Diablo were really reliable week after week, working straight out of the box and returning to their preset positions well, including remembering their shutter cuts. The Eurus S is super bright, and the nice fat 170mm lens on the front gives a pleasingly good beam of light in haze. They also give nice clean shadows.

“I found the dual frost – light and heavy – very useful when relighting each week in very different size and shaped venues. Some weeks I opted to use the light frost to tidy up on legs and borders to control flare rather than the heavy frost.

“The Diablo S on tour were really bright for the size of unit, and perfect for rigging in small awkward FOH positions, or on circle bars with low safe working limit – some less than 50kg – but at 22kg Diablo proved no problem. It was also easy to safely boom arm off a proscenium boom for the perfect shot. The quiet fans and quiet, quick resets were excellent for FOH positions close to the audience, and the zoom range and intensity were great for giving me a choice of rigging positions in the different auditoriums – I never ran out of zoom, or brightness, no matter how close, or far, the throw distances were from week to week.”

Sleep also comments that the new Ayrton units are user-friendly. “The interior of the unit is compact and clearly visible, with tight but simple access to sections, and shares the same common layout across all models, which is a good feature,” he says. “The newer approach to cooling means very little dust is drawn into the body of the unit, so much less cleaning is required and less time is spent having to access or dismantle the unit.

“We’ve received excellent service from Stage Electrics and Ambersphere (Ayrton’s exclusive distributor in the UK), and Briony (Berning) has been our very knowledgeable and helpful point of contact at Ambersphere. I’ve had a long relationship with Stage Electrics (which supplied all the lighting equipment and accessories for the refurbishment) and Paul, both here and at the ENO. He has always been open, reliable and an excellent communicator and puts a lot of work into making everything work for us.”

Text: Julie Harper
Photos: Lighting design by Matt Daw. Photos by Ellie Kurttz © RSC

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