Broadcast on 26 April as part of BBC4’s Lights Up season, J’Ouvert is the second in Sonia Friedman Productions’ RE:EMERGE season which will play at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre this summer.
Set amid the colourful backdrop of London’s historic Notting Hill carnival, J’Ouvert is the story of two best friends battling to preserve tradition in a society where women’s bodies are frequently under threat.
J’Ouvert was first produced at Theatre503, before transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre, where it was filmed for the BBC prior to its West End run. It marks the West End debut for playwright Yasmin Joseph, director Rebekah Murrell, set designer Sandra Falase, and lighting designer Simisola Majekodunmi.
“It’s been an exhilarating journey and a fast learning experience,” says Majekodunmi who chose two Ayrton Karif-LT fixtures as major workhorses in her design. “There were practical challenges in addition to the transition from stage to television lighting. The play takes place from dawn til dusk and has moments of realism and surrealism throughout, so I needed a fixture that could deliver a representation of the colour and vibe of Carnival as well as the sombreness and isolation of the spiritual moments. We also had to contend with a massive central flying piece – a vibrant amalgamation of masks, feathers, street signs and festoon – over the central revolve which blocks several conventional lighting positions.”
Majekodunmi chose to hang one Karif upstage and one downstage of the central structure to combat the difficult angles. “The upstage Karif was the real workhorse as it was in the best position to encapsulate the whole of the circular stage and was used very prominently during the dream sequences. The downstage unit was invaluable for face light during the poignant moments and for highlighting the actors downstage. And as the central structure got bigger and bigger during production, we used it to pick out highlights on the structure itself and make a feature of it, which worked really well!”
The mood changes between the excitement of Carnival and the weight of its spiritual and cultural importance, as the characters try to find their place within it. “There are moments of crisis for one of the characters, when the spirit of Carnival appears and it’s at this point the Karifs did the most work,” says Majekodunmi, “drawing down into rich, deep colours and heavy back light. They enabled me to keep the mood sunny and light, yet have room to go to the dark spaces when we needed them.
“For ‘normal’ times of the day I kept them at a really low level to give the sunny day a bit of warmth and substance, and add richness to the characters’ skin tones. The subtleness was really nice alongside the drama and brought an interesting quality that was distinctly missing if I took the Karifs out. I could also bring in some nice cross washes with lovely gobos – Karif’s gobo palette is insane!”
Majekodunmi’s favourite scene – Judging Point – was a perfect opportunity to make great use of Karif’s range of colours and features: “It’s the moment when all the floats are judged on their costume, music, the vibe being given out – it’s a point of cultural pride for the winner. I made this scene really bright, colourful, fun and open. It’s a party for all, both onstage and in the audience.” This contrasted strongly with the nod to the Grenfell Tower tragedy which saw the stage plunged into a green wash in memory of the event, matched by the intense stillness of the protagonists – a stark contrast to the noise and colour and celebration of the rest of the play.
“Karif is a really fantastic fixture. It’s very fast and responsive and did all that I planned for it to do,” confirms Majekodunmi. “To go straight from a very small theatre to filming in a larger venue was a radical change. I had to embrace the fact filming is very different from stage: everything needed to be brighter and the Karifs were a godsend in this respect because they gave us a lot more scope in intensity, and gave us somewhere to go.”
Lighting programmer, Tamykha Patterson was impressed with the speed of Karif: “They are super easy to use and control and really fast! There are so many things you can do with them and we have only just touched the surface.”
The pair of Karif-LT fixtures were supplied by Ayrton’s exclusive UK distributor, Ambersphere Solutions. “When I talked to the team at J’Ouvert and understood the nature of the play and the vibrancy of the story, I knew Karif was the perfect fixture,” says Ambersphere’s Briony Berning-Pollard. “It has all of the features, colours, gobos, effects wheels and prisms…everything that Karif does well was called for in this show. Karif is a ‘celebration’ light with the full potential for all those exciting looks.”
J’Ouvert opens for a 3-week run at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre on 16 June until 3 July 2021 (Piece first published on the Ambershpere website in July 2021)