Lighthouse to Rock the West End
Monday, 22 April 2002
In a spectacular West End ‘first’, Lighthouse LED video technology will take the lead visual effects role in the new Queen-inspired musical We Will Rock You, written by Ben Elton, which opens at London’s Dominion Theatre on 14 May. This is the first time LED video screens have been deployed as the major staging effect in a West End musical, and in We Will Rock You, the screens are being used in ways that go beyond the staging of the most adventurous TV show or live event.

The musical’s story is set 300 years in the future, when the world is a bland place in which music and musical instruments have long been banned, but a bohemian subculture is determined to bring them back to life. The show is designed by rock’n’roll veterans Willie Williams and Mark Fisher and directed by Chris Renshaw. The upper, everyday world is represented by such set elements as classical colonnades and a ‘power boardroom’ while the down-at-heel subterranean world is strewn with rubbish and broken-down artefacts. A band of nine musicians performs from a pair of side-stage platforms.

The screens form an intrinsic and powerful part of the action, showing graphics, moving images, backdrops and live action. Eight separate screens, each configured as 4x5 panels (160 panels in all) of Lighthouse LVP1010C Quarter Bin LED screen are used onstage, with four at floor level on individually powered, steerable trucks and another four flown to allow lateral and vertical movements via an automated motion system devised and built by Brilliant Stages. Adding to the action, large scenic elements truck and fly in and out of the stage throughout the show. Production manager Ted Irwin explains: "In some scenes the screens become a mobile backdrop; in others they become windows through which people call to each other from screen to screen, and in another they become a travel screen where a character hops on a Harley Davison in Geneva and drives to Wembley. It’s stuff that has simply never been done in the West End before."

The video content was devised by Fisher and Williams, with editing performed in both Mark Fisher’s studio and at Punk Video. The live action cameras and overall video production are being provided by Blitz Vision, who have created an under-stage TV studio. The four floor-mounted screens are controlled by Brilliant Stages’ robotic pre-programmed Control Techniques system which also provides a metre of vertical movement. A driver can also sit behind each screen to steer it from side to side onstage using a three-wheel steer / three-wheel drive mechanism. These screens can also be angled by up to 30°.

The flown screens are suspended from truss on an I-beam track mounted beneath, and moved via a rack drive with individual drives to each of the four screen carriages and computer-controlled drum winches for vertical movement. At various times the screens pair off to left and right, then meet up with each other, lower down and rest on top of the other four on stage. Willie Williams comments: "The screens are being used as an integral part of the show - part scenery and part personality, used in many different configurations. The graphics are largely animation, telling this futuristic story, and mostly consist of computer-generated imagery in both 2D and 3D, along with some live camera work."

(Lee Baldock)

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