London’s new smash musical Singin’ In The Rain has more than its fair share of memorable moments. And although the scene where Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) joyfully splashes his way across the waterlogged stage wins out on feelgood factor, the funniest is the screening of Lockwood and his co-star Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley)’s disastrous first attempt to make a talkie. As their film unravels, complete with missed cues, dodgy sound and terrible diction, so do the audience; it’s a comedy set-piece only matched when ingénue Kathy Seldon (Scarlett Strallen) dubs the rushes later in the show.
It seems only fitting that, in a play about movies, a piece of film has a starring role. But while many of the audience may wonder who created the impressive lighting, set or sound, few will question who was behind the projection.
“We get mentioned a lot more now”, grins Ian William Galloway, the beguiling green-eyed 30-year-old from east London whose video design for the show has garnered glowing reviews from the Guardian, Telegraph and Evening Standard. “Generally the rule in lighting and sound and set is that if you don't get mentioned that's fine - it’s only if you get mentioned badly that it’s an issue! It's perhaps been a case of reviewers not quite being sure who did what. But that's solving itself as the naming becomes more consistent. Video designer or projection designer. They know what that means.”
The rest of us may have a little catching up to do. As a recent piece in the Guardian on projected theatre sets suggested, there is still an innate antagonism between theatre and video. Declaring that “using video technology for settings is nothing but the 21st-century equivalent of the painted backdrop” and that it “[goes] against the very essence of theatre: imagination”, the article prompted a storm of comments. But as Galloway points out, this represents only one application of video design in a fast innovating industry.
“All the technology, such as projection mapping, has been around for the past ten years. Because it was expensive people initially wanted to wow audiences by creating big spangly 3D projected sets. But now you can buy a projector from PC World for £300 that is as bright as what we were using forHis Dark Materials. This means people aren't pre-deciding that they have to use it in a certain high-profile way, which means the design gets better. You can walk in and ask: what do you think it needs? What do we want to we say with the video? It could be subtle, it could only appear once. It's like sound: how many effects you have has no relation on how good or bad the final product is.”