Howard Harrison

Lighting Designer – Blithe Spirit, Duke of York’s Theatre, London

We had opened Blithe Spirit the week before so I was actually at The Garrick working on City of Angels but bizarrely I had just been for a meeting earlier in the day at the Duke of York’s on the Monday we were all sent home. Believe or or not, the two theatres are actually connected: you can actually get from one to the other if you go up to the top floor. At one point they were sister theatres and used to share a stage door. We had done Blithe Spirit this time last year in Bath and it then got mothballed until January when it went out on tour in an adapted version. Then of course it came into town at exactly the same time we were supposed to be at the Garrick doing City of Angels so I spent less time there than I would have liked to because the other show was very demanding but I had very good associates and it all went very smoothly. I kept turning up at breaks and everybody said “What are you doing here?” so I just came back to the Garrick. For me it was a weird thing having two shows going on back to back at the same time. Two such different shows – two completely different teams with different atmospheres – it was kind of extraordinary.

The week before, you just knew something was about to happen but it was interesting to see how everyone reacted to it that day: the various factions and disagreements about whether we should perform. We were having a conversation about it and trying to decide what to do but then the government broadcast came out and there was no decision to be made after all. If it was a play, the history of that day would have a rather anti-climatic ending!

I presume at the Duke of York’s they also didn’t play that night either. It was a very happy show, Blithe Spirit: It was a lovely company and it was a very pleasant experience – a very good production. The backstage image sums up Blithe Spirit to me because it was all very naturalistic so we wanted to hide the lights from view. Jennifer [Saunders] was a very good company leader and she was incredibly good in the show – as was everyone -so it was terribly sad that it turned out to be such a short run. It was only due to be there for eight weeks or so and it was sod’s law that it was doing incredibly well. I presume the set’s still sitting there. 

Who knows, maybe it will come back again. It was supposed to close in May and there were another two shows backed up going in there. Absolutely choc-a-block. I don’t know what’s happened to those shows – whether they will reappear. That’s the thing: we just don’t know. There’s a big question mark hanging over all of us. Weird times indeed and one day we’ll probably all go “Where were you when…?’. 

Looking at the image from the circle, it makes me think that someone is about to take the iron out and it’s all going to be fine and everyone’s going to be on stage and we’re back to normal. I think we’d all hope that when we go back, we’d want to return to an enlightened version of where we were. I think there are a lot of things about the world that will need to change. I think the lockdown and the virus has pointed out to us that the way the world works is not great and we could do with being aware of this and starting again. However I think in the Theatre everything was going pretty well. It was pretty healthy, everyone was going to the Theatre: it was good, So I think in the meantime it would be great to think we’d go back to the way things were but maybe we never will so who knows?

Obviously it was terribly sad with City of Angels because it was a great show and we’d all been working extremely hard on it. We’d got so far and to get that close to the finishing line was desperately unfair. We were shut down on the Monday and we were supposed to open on the following Tuesday so we were eight shows away from opening. I think there’s something quite poetic about that. People will say “You did the show that never opened.” It will become the stuff of legends.

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