White Light Makes the Case for Prima Facie

Starring the BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning Jodie Cromer, Prime Facie tells the story of a brilliant young barrister who, having worked her way up to the top of her game, suddenly finds herself confronting where the patriarchal power of the law truly lies. The play recently opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End and is the UK premiere of Suzie Miller’s award-winning play. It features a lighting design by the Oliver Award-winning Natasha Chivers who approached White Light (WL) to provide the lighting. 

Unlike the majority of West End shows, Prima Facie is a one-person monologue that features only two sets; both of which are used in either half. It required a different approach from Natasha whose other West End show, The Doctor, includes multiple locations and a cast of 11. She comments: “The initial creative conversations for Prima Facie were all about the set. For the first half of the show, the protagonist is surrounded by a range of white folders, to represent all of the cases that they have been involved with (some of these are then flown back in at the very end to represent the number of cases that don’t go to court or are simply thrown out). For the second half, we literally had a black void with virtually no set as the protagonist engages in a series of flashbacks that move around multiple locations. The notion was that, in the first act, she is very grounded within the world that she knows yet, come the second, she’s thrown into a world of complete transient instability where she feels somewhat lost”. 

This set up meant that Natasha’s design had to not only accentuate the protagonist’s emotional journey but do so within the constraints of the set. Knowing her brief, she approached the Customer Service team at WL to supply her with the fixtures. 

She explains: “I drew on the ETC Revolutions as the director needed me to downlight the six backwall bookshelves (which contained folders) and they were also used as a backlight throughout Act Two. The ceiling on stage had to be flown up and was actually a BP screen with a timber frame that we could utilise to change the colour of the space. As such, upstage of the ceiling, we had a six metre GLP XBar 20.  These really were a brilliant fixture for the show as they could be used for backlight, a full stage wash or even to pick out specific sections. There’s actually two large desks, the types you’d find in chambers, that the protagonist stands on throughout and the Director wanted to create the sense of being on show in court and highlight the theatricality of this; something these fixtures allowed us to do”.  

She continues: “I drew on the Diablos which were positioned above the ceiling on the BP as there was no access once this fixture was rigged so we needed to have something that was completely reliable. I also had four MAC Encores positioned out front. Due to the set being so white, we essentially had to bring in additional movers which had to then try and act as specials. For the second half, the side rig was packed with ETC Lustr 2s which create a traditional dance cross light wash, and there’s also row of XBars squeezed in downstage to backlight a rain curtains”.  

As with any production, there were some obstacles that Natasha had to overcome whilst lighting Prima Facie: “This really was a show where it was not about the quantity of lighting but quality. As the set was so white (which is normally a designer’s worst nightmare!), we knew any front light that missed Jodie and hit the white folders behind her would be a problem. Because the folders are lighter than her skin tone, the audience’s eyes would naturally go to them as it will be brighter.  Similarly, the set had very limited positions for sculpting light and sidelight due to its intimate nature. That said, I worked with my team and WL to overcome these barriers, which I feel we did. As the show was being broadcast on NT Live, I also wanted to make sure that Jodie (who is on stage for the entire show) was clearly and cleanly lit for camera and that the design would translate onto screen as well as stage”.    

Prima Facie opened back in April to rave reviews and immediately sold out. It finished its West End run last week and recently announced it will now transfer to Broadway.  

Natasha concludes: “This show has genuinely been one of the highlights of my career, and I was very lucky to have an amazing group of lovely people around me. I’d like to say a big thanks to Laura Howell, the Programmer, who was excellent as always. Also, a big thanks to Stuart Porter and the whole WL team who were brilliant once again”.  

Photos courtesy of Helen Murray.

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