Max Webster’s intense production of Shakespeare’s bloody, supernatural tragedy, Macbeth, featuring David Tennant and Cush Jumbo, opened to fantastic reviews at London’s Donmar Warehouse in December.

Played out on Rosanna Vize’s stark, minimalist set, comprising a flat white platform backed by a glass wall that isolates off-stage actors from the action, the audience listens through binaural headphones that catch every nuance of the actors’ speech, drawing them deeper and more intimately into the text – and Macbeth’s mental state.

Lighting designer, Bruno Poet, accentuates this intensity with the help of Ayrton Khamsin TC fixtures: “The simplicity of the set – the sharp-edged white platform contrasting heavily with the black surroundings combined with the detail of the soundscape meant it wasn’t always necessary to see the actors’ faces fully,” explains Poet. “This gave me a lot of freedom to use lighting in a very directional, sculptural way, and the Khamsin TCs were the key element in this.”

Poet used just six Ayrton Khamsin TC (True Colour) fixtures in the overhead rig as his main workhorse fixtures. “The quality of light from the Khamsin’s TC engine was beautiful and the output gave me so many creative possibilities,” he says.

One Khamsin TC was rigged over each corner of the stage with a further two in upstage- and downstage centre positions. “Because the zoom goes so wide, I found to my delight, I could light the whole stage using just one Khamsin. Obviously at other times we balanced them in different ways, but one single fixture was bright enough to light the whole stage, flooded out by the wide zoom with nice clean shutter cuts around it.

“There was enough bounce off the white stage to fill light the actors’ faces, and give me those lovely clean, single source looks with just a single shadow on stage, giving me a very strong look for key moments such as the famous dagger speech.

“Khamsin’s soft and heavy frosts gave me even more opportunities: I could shutter very cleanly around the stage floor and use the light frost to soften the edges, or use the heavy frost to diffuse it wider and catch the actors as they stood around the edge of the stage. It was a very, very beautiful effect.”

Most of the production takes place in either a crisp daylight white, mixed to match the 201 colour of the parcans Poet’s uses in other points of the rig, or a steely blue. “That worked out well,” he says. “The austerity of the look meant that colour really popped for the few moments I chose to use it, such as the apparitions scene which is deep monochrome red and the battle in steely green, but the TC version still had plenty of output, even when flooded really wide and adding a saturated colour.

“Moving lights are frequently optimised to be incredibly bright in white and when zoomed in, but then drop off when you add colour or go wide. But if you have a lot of power to begin with, you can afford to lose some. I was running the Khamsins at 30%-40% throughout most of the show, which still left me somewhere to go for increased contrast and intensity whenever we needed it.”

Poet is very familiar with Ayrton fixtures having used – and liked – them extensively for his live music work with bands such as Sigur Rós and the Pet Shop Boys, but he has seldom used them in theatre. “I was concerned how noisy they might have been in a theatre environment, but the tests we carried out with Briony Berning from Ambersphere (Ayrton’s exclusive distributor in the UK) showed them to be as quiet as any light I have used in a theatre, even in a tiny venue like the Donmar. And when Briony told me about the TC engine, I was interested to try them in theatre and see how they turned out.

“They proved to be perfect for the production and I was delighted with the results. The quietness, the quality of the light from the TC engine, the width of the zoom and the fact that it had light and heavy frost and shutters – those were all the features I wanted. Khamsins will certainly be in my armoury for more plays in the future.”

Miguel Figueiredo, head of lighting at the Donmar Warehouse comments: “The Khamsins TC units we hired for the production of Macbeth have brilliantly fulfilled their brief. We needed a unit that was quiet as the show is sound sensitive, with good colour rendition, and that could be used to cover the main playing space in scenes where only one unit and haze do all the lighting work. All of this has been achieved with the Ayrton Khamsin. It is also worth pointing out how reliable they have been: we have had no issues at all with these units and they are very reliable at returning to position between power cycles.”

The Khamsin TC fixtures were supplied by Neg Earth Lights.

Macbeth runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 10 February 2024.

Text: Julie Harper
Photos: © Marc Brenner

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