Lady Grenades at the Lowry

UK - Britain’s Got Talent contestants battle it out each spring to reach the top spot - this year won by singer Sydnie Christmas, to the tune of £250,000 and a coveted place on the Royal Variety Performance. Viewers tune in at an average rate of 5-6m per episode, with the first episode watched by over 12mviewers, making BGT ITV’s biggest entertainment show this year.

2024 marks the third year television, broadcast and event lighting specialist, Version 2, has supplied the lighting, distribution, cabling, control equipment and supplementary truss for the series’ fun-filled auditions, all of which were filmed over two intense week-long sessions at the London Palladium and Manchester Lowry.

The series was lit again by award-winning lighting designer, David Bishop, who was happy that Version 2 won the tender process for the series once more, and specified fixtures that would give him the tools to add the flexibility, colour and sparkle his work is known for.

His selection included Robe Spiider, Spikie and Forte fixtures, Martin Mac Aura XB Wash and Rush Par 2 and Rush Par 3, ETC Source Four LED S2 Lustr, Chauvet Colordash Battens and Accent, and GLP X4 Bar and Fusion Sticks, all of which were sourced from Version 2.

“Version 2’s attention to detail is fantastic and any problems are fixed with no fuss,” says Bishop. “They go above and beyond what I ask for, adding any details I may have forgotten or overlooked. They ask the right questions and actually contribute to the process of getting every aspect of the system right.”

The auditions are recorded as live in front of capacity theatre audiences with just two days of rigging and focusing before launching into the daily audition schedule. This involves two daily sessions of 10-12 acts per session, with a complete change of audience between sessions, repeated for eight days at the Palladium and again for six-seven days at The Lowry.

“We see a lot of acts,” confirms Bishop. “Around 20-25 per day. We need to be able to react nimbly as the auditions are formatted as traditional unrehearsed theatre auditions to give everyone a level playing field. So, with the exception of a few magic acts or an act with very specific lighting requirements, we never know what we are going to get! It’s full-on variety and we have to be ready to operate the lighting on the fly.

“By changing from a previously largely conventional to an automated rig, I can accommodate this a lot more quickly and we can tweak things remotely as we go along. I had two programmers across this series: Tom Young and Adam Marshall - the royalty of the programming world - who look after key lighting, effects lighting and the media server all on one desk which is quite a big ask. Luckily they are both very quick.

“We have a carefully balanced stage wash and our house look for 85-90% of the acts. We try not to give many specific lighting cues as it detracts from the ‘audition’ format, and we need to keep something in reserve as there needs to be an editorial progression from the auditions to the more structured look of the final shows.

“As a general rule of television lighting, you never want to see a light source which is both a blessing and a curse. You can hide fixtures, which is one reason why everything looks so glossy, but a theatrical back drape for example, presents a large empty black space on camera. I wanted a multi-cell fixture that could sit there twinkling in the background to give some animation and energy to the stage, and fill some of that black space, which is where the Spiiders, X4 Bars and Fusion Sticks came in handy.”

Bishop also subtly lights the audience to ensure their reactions can be seen on camera which he does using Source Four Lustrs. “This means I can keep the light very carefully off the judges at the front of the auditorium and the cameras by using the shutters, but it also means I can adjust the tint of the light to a low level of warm light so it feels like they are just lit by the glow of the stage lighting, rather than actually being directly lit (which they are!).”

A lot of effects lighting utilising the Spikies and more Fusion Sticks are also built into the back of the stalls, the circle and the upper circle for greater interest in the back of the shots whenever the camera looks into the auditorium. These Bishop also incorporates into dynamic lighting reactions to the Golden Buzzer or Red Buzzer moments so, to the tv audience, the whole experience looks totally immersive.

Bishop also has the responsibility of making sure the four judges all look their very best “so we give their lighting a lot of attention.” Some more than others? “Let’s just say they are all very happy with what I do!”

Bishop has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Version 2 since the start of his career and says they are his first port of call for his television work. “One of the main reasons I like working with V2 is the people: I have a very good, long relationship with all of them, and my account handler, Simon Perrott, is just brilliant at solving problems. He takes anything I throw at him and makes it happen.

“The V2 team take everything in their stride and I never feel that I’m on my own, which is very reassuring in live performance. And because of the volume of work I have to deal with, it’s essential that I can just fire things at them and know it will be taken care of. They also offer great support to my gaffer, Mark Newell, who takes my lighting design and actually makes it work. I feel they have my back covered at every stage.”

Simon Perrott, Version 2 Senior Project Manager, adds: “It's been fantastic to be back working with Julie Burfoot and the team at Thames; it's one of the enjoyable productions we look out for in our calendar. As a household name, it's an honour to be supporting Dave and his Team on this flagship TV production." 

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