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Clay Paky Alphas join Stage Electrics in modern re-staging of Chess musical
Lighting Designer
Ben Cracknell
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Clay Paky are currently touring the UK with a revived production of Chess the musical, directed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood.

The classic musical, written by Tim Rice and ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson, tells the story of two Cold War chess masters whose battle for the title of world chess champion is outdone by an even greater contest for the heart of the female protagonist, Florence Vassey.

The modern staging brings together an impressive cast of West End actors and musicians, as well as the creative talents of Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell and Video Designer Jack James. UK theatrical supplier Stage Electric was responsible for providing all the production’s lighting and video equipment.

The innovative lighting design by Ben Cracknell features a significant number of Clay Paky Alpha Profile 1500s, supplied by Stage Electrics. “Much of the set is composed of video floor and walls in addition to perspex surfaces internally lit by LED,” says Ben, “so I needed a bright light that could cut it against the LED.”

Ben also explained how the Alpha Profile’s beam-framing system became an important component of the show. “In reference to the game of Chess, we used the Profiles to focus the action within sharply defined squares of light drawing the audience in, much like a close up.”

In one scene, where the character goes through an emotional break-up, a large square of light used to define a hotel room rotates extremely slowly around him, gradually contracting, until by the end he is left alone in an intimate square pool of light. Ben noted that this was only possible because the Alphas’ movements are so smooth: “They may be fast but equally you can always do nice live moves with the Alpha 1500 Profile  – they’re never clunky.”

Ben’s work as a lighting designer ranges from West End to worldwide productions. His West End credits include: All the Fun of the Fair, Shout! The 60’s Musical and Defending the Caveman. As a lighting director, his TV work has included the 2011 Laurence Olivier Awards and The 2006-2011 Brits Launch Shows (ITV).

Due to the technical complexity of the show – there were in the region of 700 lighting cues, double what you’d expect – production time was exceedingly tight. Ben, James and their respective teams opted to plot the majority of the lighting and video offline using Stage Electrics’ in-house WYSIWYG facilities at the company’s London Bridge branch.

“Supplying Chess with lighting and video equipment has been very rewarding,” commented Mark Burnett, Business Development Manager for Stage Electrics. “The production brings together Stage Electrics with the creative teams of Chess, and further cements our position as a leading multi-discipline technical supplier”.

The show continues to tour the UK with John Delaney as Touring Chief Electrician. Ben Pitts and Pete Lambert are credited as production electricians while the lighting was programmed by Stuart Cross and Chris Winn.