Richard Pilbrow obituary


Till Richard Pilbrow got here alongside, the job of the lighting designer in British theatre was to gentle the actors and flatter the decor. Richard, who has died aged 90, recognised that stage design had the potential to be structure in movement, and that the expertise of photographic projection might permit tales to be instructed otherwise.

Impressed by the Czech “scenographer” Joseph Svoboda, and inventive American lighting designers equivalent to Tharon Musser, Richard introduced imaginative and prescient, technical experience and expertise to the craft, making stage lighting an expressive and important a part of theatre design. He performed a key function within the building and design of the Nationwide Theatre on the South Financial institution, London, within the Sixties and 70s, and his legacy could be seen in nearly each modern stage manufacturing on this planet.

In 1957, with £150 borrowed from his father, Richard obtained a stockpile of lighting gear saved beneath the stage of the Drury Lane theatre and began an organization, Theatre Initiatives, together with his soon-to-be spouse, Viki Brinton, and Bryan Kendall. Initially they rented tools, however the group progressively turned the dominant sound and lighting designers of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Later they turned the main consultancy in theatre design, engaged on greater than 1,800 initiatives in over 80 international locations.

Having made his mark as a lighting designer with the 59 Theatre Firm on the Lyric Hammersmith, within the early 60s Richard was requested by Laurence Olivier first to advise on the brand new Chichester Pageant theatre, after which, in 1963, to turn out to be the lighting director for the newly created Nationwide Theatre on the Outdated Vic, the place he lit, amongst others, the launch manufacturing, Hamlet, and the world premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Useless (1967).

Olivier then introduced him on to the advisory committee for growing the longer term Nationwide Theatre on the South Financial institution, to assist mediate tensions between the practitioners on the committee and the architect, Denys Lasdun.

Lasdun designed the seating areas and levels of the Lyttelton and Olivier auditoriums and Richard supervised the expertise, which included the groundbreaking Olivier drum revolve, through which two semi-circular lifts could possibly be raised and lowered independently and, whereas lowered, rotated at sub-stage degree. It was lengthy delayed in completion however, since being commissioned within the 90s, has been used broadly and efficiently. Different improvements included computer-controlled energy flying for surroundings (tailored from tv studio techniques) and a computerised lighting desk.

Richard and Lasdun managed to construct an efficient working relationship, and later Lasdun invited him to collaborate on a contest for Genoa Opera Home. Nevertheless, by the point the Lyttelton and Olivier theatres opened in 1976, it had turn out to be clear to Richard that, owing to the disproportionate quantity of area, the remoteness of the balconies and the unfriendly materials of concrete, it was exhausting for even essentially the most completed actors to make themselves heard with out amplification, leaving each audiences and practitioners annoyed.

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The Olivier Theatre auditorium on the Nationwide Theatre on the South Financial institution in London. Richard Pilbrow supervised the expertise, which included the revolutionary groundbreaking Olivier drum revolve, through which two semi-circular lifts could possibly be raised and lowered independently. {Photograph}: Simon Turner/Alamy

Consequently, when the design of the Cottesloe (now Dorfman) theatre was delegated to Theatre Initiatives, Pilbrow urged his colleague, Iain Waterproof coat, to design it with the viewers gathered tightly across the stage – a form that had beforehand been dismissed as anachronistic by the advisory committee. The so-called “courtyard theatre” turned the mannequin for a lot of Theatre Initiatives buildings all around the world.

Born in Beckenham, Kent, Richard was the son of Marjorie (nee Hayward), a music instructor, and Gordon Pilbrow, a property developer and Olympic fencer who took half within the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Gordon desperately needed his son to observe in his fencing footsteps and organized tuition from the nationwide coach. It was all in useless: Richard was extra thinking about enjoying together with his Pollocks toy theatre and the lure of the Beckenham Youngsters’s theatre. He later instructed me that his curiosity in lighting may additionally have been engendered by rising up through the second world conflict and watching the floodlights, flashes and fires of the blitz from the fringes of south London.

After attending the close by Bickley Corridor prep faculty, then Cranbrook faculty in Kent, Richard did his nationwide service within the RAF, turning into a corporal. He went to Central College of Speech and Drama, the place he met Viki, and collectively they helped switch the college’s present within the yr of their commencement, 1955, to Her Majesty’s theatre (now His Majesty’s) within the West Finish. They married in 1958.

Her Majesty’s provided Richard a job, as an assistant stage supervisor on the Broadway play The Teahouse of the August Moon. There he was uncovered to the work of Peter Larkin (who had designed the unique lighting within the US) and George Schaefer (who tailored it for the West Finish), and began to see the probabilities of a self-discipline that was solely in its infancy within the UK.

In 1963 the American director Hal Prince introduced A Humorous Factor Occurred on the Technique to the Discussion board to London, and he requested Richard to do the projections. This led to Richard’s involvement as co-producer of various musicals directed by Prince that transferred to the West Finish from Broadway, together with She Loves Me, Cabaret, Firm, A Little Evening Music and Fiddler on the Roof. In 1968 Richard lit the musical Zorba within the US for Prince, making him the primary British lighting designer of a Broadway present.

Richard additionally produced the movie Swallows and Amazons (1974) and a 1977 TV sequence about standard music, All You Want Is Love, with Tony Palmer. An indefatigable organiser, he was the co-founder of the Affiliation of British Theatre Technicians and of the Affiliation of Lighting Designers.

He wrote an indispensable information to his craft, Stage Lighting (1970; revised 1997), and a memoir, A Theatre Venture (2011). Within the final years of his life, Richard was engaged on a historical past of the making of the Nationwide Theatre constructing, A Sense of Theatre – to be revealed this spring – through which he argued that he was mistaken on the time to see the problem in technical somewhat than theatrical phrases, and that his work over the following 5 a long time had led him to advocate a return to the mannequin of Victorian and Edwardian theatres – horseshoe-shaped auditoriums that embrace the stage and seating layered on a number of ranges, creating a way of unity between actor and viewers.

For all his concern with design and expertise, Richard was at all times passionate concerning the medium itself: he thought that the human component – the actor – needed to be on the centre of the occasion and that, in all enterprises, the entire needed to be the sum of its elements, technicians as a lot as artists.

His marriage to Viki resulted in divorce. That they had a son, Fred, and a daughter, Abigail. In 1974 he married Molly Friedel, additionally a lighting designer, and so they had a daughter, Daisy.

Molly and his kids survive him.


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