The National Theatre on London’s south bank has long been a bastion of creativity and world-class productions. Its three auditoria – the Olivier, the Lyttelton and the Dorfman – host productions from leading creative and technical crews.

As part of its continued transition to LED lighting, lighting resources manager at the National Theatre (NT), Paul Hornsby, and his team set about replacing their outdated HMI Fresnel fixtures in the NT’s floating stock. “Trying to find a modern LED replacement for a big Fresnel Wash that can provide that big punchy back light and colour hasn’t been easy,” says Hornsby. “We are always trying to recreate that classic 5kW Fresnel/2.5kW HMI look that is really important to a theatre, and there have been no true alternatives until now. Moving lights or profiles with frost are a poor substitute and don’t have the same look in the air. They can’t quite recreate that classic look we remember.”

It was Philip Norfolk of Ambersphere Solutions (Ayrton’s exclusive distributor for the UK) who introduced Hornsby to the new Huracán Wash. “Philip mentioned Ayrton was developing a Wash light with a Fresnel lens which definitely piqued our interest,” Hornsby says. “We have been following Ayrton’s product developments closely since we purchased a quantity of Diablo S back in 2019/2020. These proved extremely popular with our in-house techs and visiting lighting designers, so we were keen to know more about this new development.”

Huracán Wash has a 1000W LED source, a complex colour mixing system and a full range of features; a zoom range of 6.2° – 75°, a 13-element zoom lens system, and an entirely new Fresnel lens. This lens’s optical structure is specially developed for use with framing shutter blades, and with geometric gobos or ovalization lenses, allowing it to operate with subtlety and excellence.

“The beam shaping was key to our decision – to have a wash light without any beam shaping would be crazy, especially in the theatre world,” says Hornsby. “If we didn’t have barn doors in the Olivier, for example, we would blind the first 5 rows from the backlight positions!

“But perhaps the most exciting aspect was that we were able to have the Huracán Wash with the new ST chip which Briony (Berning, from Ambersphere) suggested would really suit our purposes. This combines the colour rendition of the Huracán TC with the punch of the Huracán S to give us really nice colours with a very high output.”

Despite being destined for floating stock, the new Huracán Washes went straight to work on back-to-back shows in the National Theatre’s largest house, the 1200-seat Olivier, first on Dancing at Lughnasa with lighting design by Mark Henderson, and then on Dear England lit by Jon Clarks.

Hornsby reports that he and his team are really happy with their new Huracán Washes: “It’s nice to see a manufacturer like Ayrton taking a real interest in creating a true wash fixture. The Fresnel lens was invented for a reason – it’s great to see it updated with LED technology and have that extremely useful beam shaping.

“The output is really nice and the colours that come out of it, from tints to deep colours, are excellent. In a large theatre where you have a choice of fixtures, it feels right to offer some variety across the stock, from big punchy profiles with gobos, to soft wash lights with the right colour spectrum. Ayrton does all of this and with fixtures that are proving extremely reliable, and we’ve had brilliant support from Ambersphere who have been with us all the way.”

In fact, the National Theatre was so impressed with its Huracán Wash fixtures that it added another 6 units to its inventory just before Christmas. “We just can’t get enough of them!” laughs Hornsby.

The Huracán Washes were supplied to the National Theatre by White Light.

Text: Julie Harper
Photos: © Marc Brenner

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