First performed in 1960, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man recently made its debut in London’s West End. Opening at the Playhouse Theatre, the show tells the story of two presidential candidates who are both vying for an endorsement from the current President; with the play exploring the lengths they’ll go to achieve this. This latest production is produced by Bill Kenwright Ltd and the lighting equipment was supplied by White Light.
The Best Man enters the West End directly from a UK tour, for which WL also supplied the lighting. It stars a range of well-known names, including Martin Shaw, Maureen Lipman and Honeysuckle Weeks and features a lighting design by Chris Davey. Chris comments: “The entire play is set in a hotel suite in Philadelphia, which houses both of the candidates. In terms of the set, there is a huge gauze wall with a bedroom upstage that disappears at certain points throughout the show. That said, the most important part of set, in terms of lighting, was the huge window positioned stage right. One of my biggest tasks was to make the window believable that it was lighting the room at various points throughout the day”.
To achieve this, Chris drew on a range of 5kw Fresnels. He explains: “The Fresnels made the windows bright enough yet ensured that all of the cast received the correct amount of lighting coverage. The evening scenes contain a heavy top light to suggest a chandelier and par cans skim across the net curtain to imply the street lights outside; with the suite being based on the third floor”.
For the rest of his design, Chris had to work with Michael Taylor’s intricate set design. He comments: “Overhead, the rig consists largely of Lustr Mk2 Fresnels. I used them as space is tight due to newspaper headlines being flown from above. As there wasn’t enough space to rig a warm and cold wash, the Lustrs allowed much more possibilities and often change colour during a scene. I also drew on three data flashes for the camera effects off the paparazzi who are stood outside the suite’s main door throughout”.
As the play had already visited several venues across the UK, Chris had to make some subtle changes to his design for the West End run. He states: “There a lot more cues at the Playhouse Theatre, meaning there is more structure to the look and it allows us to follow the action around the room more; highlighting the various moods. Similarly, we amended the scene changes to make these as interactive as possible and allow them to also become scenes within themselves”.
Chris comments: “The Best Man has been a fantastic production to work on and it’s great to have followed its journey from a UK tour all the way into the West End. I am also grateful to WL for their support at every stage”.
Bryan Raven, WL’s Managing Director, comments: “We are delighted to be working with Chris and supplying yet another show in the West End. With our lighting equipment currently being used on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Aladdin, Young Frankenstein, The Birthday Party, along with the upcoming Tina: The Musical, we are still the leading lighting supplied in the West End, providing designers with the technology and service they expect from WL”.
Photos courtesy of Pamela Raith.