Archive | February, 2019

Special effects in Theatre – design solutions for #LetTheRightOneIn @bovts

26 Feb
Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_7608Anna-Kate Golding as Eli – photo by Mark Dawson

One of the greatest discoveries during my last directing project was working out how we could solve some of the key effects required in the production of Let The Right One In.

Spoiler alert – these included hanging a character by his feet: a sulphuric acid facial burn, a character bleeding from every part of her body, a swimming pool murder scene, in which three characters are brutally killed.

All of which needed to take place in between scenes of relative ‘normality’ took place. So this meant we couldn’t have the stage swimming in blood one minute, water the next, and then cut back to the interior of a house with the characters back to a state of un bloodied costume and hair.

So working with set designer Alana Ashley and Costume designer Roisin Martindale we set out to solve these last October and November – before we went into rehearsal in January this year.

We were going to be performing the piece at Circomedia – which meant that our first challenge was solved. They had flying gear and rigging equipment in the grid that would allow us to winch the character of ‘Torkel’ played by Will Fletcher into the air and be able to lower him down again safely and securely.

Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_6624Will Fletcher as Torkel photo by Mark Dawson

We decided to explore the use of AV projection, and the lighting designer Joe Stathers hired a laser projector (It was 10,000 lumens Panasonic PT-RZ970 with a 0.9-1.3 lens)

In the rear of the image you can see on the ice and snow mound a great splatter of blood from the laser projector with precision mapping on the mound. ( Thanks to Daniel Harvey for his mapping and AV skills) So with this we knew we could place sharp and precise blood spots and movie files on any location on the set. This delivered not only great effects but also enabled us to solve the blood ‘management’ issue for certain scenes.

Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_7816Freddy Sawyer, Beshlie Thorpe, Emer Heatley, Lawrence Haynes, Tom Briggs, Will Fletcher and Oscar Porter – photo by Mark Dawson

Here the blood splatters on the set and on the bodies was clearly visible from the laser projector. In another shot you can see the aftermath discovery with Eli and Oskar at the side of the pool.

Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_7785Tom Briggs, Will Fletcher Oscar Porter Shane David Jospeh and Anna-Kate Golding – photo by Mark Dawson

The pool was another design solution that we came up with. The mound opened for the scene to reveal the blue and green light recessed pool area that Oskar (Shane David Joseph) had to get into.

Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_7725Will Fletcher, Shane David Joseph, Tom Briggs and Oscar Porter – photo by Mark Dawson

All of the design and structural elements were built and finished by the BOVTS set and construction and scenic art teams who did a brilliant job. The same was true for the costume elements – and below you can see the dress designed by Roisin Martindale and made by Jemima Homer that solved our special effects challenge. In this sequence it  was required that Eli (Anna-Kate Golding) should be covered in blood as her blood vessels under her skin explode and shower blood across her body.

Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_7469Shane David Joseph and Anna-Kate Golding as Oskar and Eli – photo by Mark Dawson

This was achieved with the clever use of silk, crocheted wool and material packed under a separate duplicate dress. In combination with movement and lighting we were able to produce this as part of the action in that particular scene.

IMG_4940photo by Marcus Romer

The resulting projection after the scene of the blood dress enable us to leave the ‘marks’ on the set.

The Acid burn face was achieved by building a silicon mask onto a cast of ‘Hakan’ (Freddy Sawyer’s face) and painting it. This was blended with make up and fitted during each show at the interval by the make up team.

Let The Right One In_Mark Dawson Photography__DSC3093Anna-Kate Golding and Freddy Sawyer – photo by Mark Dawson

So a brief overview of some of the techniques we deployed for the show. You can read the 5 star reviews here and here

The show was a real joy to direct and the cast and production team worked incredibly hard to deliver this in the timescale.

IMG_5009 Here we all are after the final performance


“I know a film can’t solve the issues of knife crime, but it can start to raise some of the right questions”

10 Feb


As a director and filmmaker I wrote and directed a feature film that had the subject of knife crime at its heart. Literally.

The Knife That Killed Me was released by Universal Pictures in 2014. It was well received, got a 4 star review in The Times, and it was one of the top ten films of the year in the Huffington Post. It had time in cinemas and at various festivals around the world and it still has a rating of 7.2 on IMDb.

It is available to watch on Amazon Prime and iTunes and if you are old school you can still get it on DVD. The adaptation was based on the novel by Anthony McGowan which is also available.

I have seen this film in movie theatres across the world, and on one memorable occasion with over 900 young people in Rome at the film festival, where it received a standing ovation. It will be screened again the year in Norway in Harstad following our successful screening for a young audience at the Arctic Moving Image Film Festival there. You can view the trailer on IMDb.


The reason for this renewed attention is the rapid increase in knife attacks between young people over the last few years. Now of course a film can’t give any right answers, or solve this very pressing issue, but I do believe that a piece of art can raise the right questions if framed in the right context.

There was a Guardian article by Catherine Bruton about this very topic

“why doesn’t the UK government put titles like Hate and The Knife that Killed Me on the new GCSE syllabus rather than obsessing over Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy? “No one who reads The Knife that Killed Me is ever going to carry a knife – ever. In fact, they’ll probably eat with a spoon for the rest of their lives.”

There are ways that work like this can find a way into the lives of young people. I have spent my career as a director making theatre and film in this area –  in theatres, schools, and public settings. I know that you have to start at the grass roots level and build the narratives that are appropriate for the intended audience. But it can be done. It can work. It can raise the right questions, it can get young people addressing the subject matter in their own way.

The question I always used to ask was, if the result of the work that I make means that just one person decides to not carry a knife any more – then that is potentially one less crime statistic or part of a story that leads to yet another young life lost.

And that is something I believe is worth fighting for.

If you would like to help me drop me a line


Let The Right One In – This much I have learned about directing

9 Feb


I have been directing this for the last few weeks and as we head into the technical week before we open on Feb 18th, I would like to share my learning and thoughts about the process of directing.

I was chatting to a fellow director over Christmas before I started the rehearsal process at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She gave me some really good advice, in that working in a drama school environment you really examine your process as a director and how and why you make the choices that you do.

So taking this advice into the rehearsal room was incredibly valuable, even though I always feel most at home in any rehearsal space, after all I have been working as a director for 30 years, it was my first time working in a drama school.

For those of you who know me, you will know that I never went to drama school, in fact my introduction was an altogether different type of theatre. There it involved scrubs, gowns and gloves.

So after being an Artistic Director and more recently a film director it has been a brilliant and rewarding process to be working at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. The entire production has been developed and made from the point of design, through to costume design and making, scenic construction, scenic art, production and stage management, sound, lighting and AV design and the entire cast, all from the students from the courses and programmes run by the school. The courses all have professional heads of department so the support for everything including voice to stage combat and movement are all backed up by the brilliant staff here.

The key thing about working in this environment is that you realise you are working with a top squad of players who are in your team. The final year programme actors are pretty special and you realise that this talented group of young people are going to head out into the world, and start working in various facets of the industry. So it is a privilege to be able to work with them and hopefully provide some additional advice or encouragement to equip them as they embark on their careers. This is an exciting and rewarding space in which to work.

So the rehearsal process and schedule has worked in the same way as all my professional practice, and we have worked through the script, developed characters through a series of exercises, games and group interactions. A particular area of work focused on whole group hot seating and character development. I extended this with a series of improvisations using phones which we developed and extended in this process, and some of these have ended up in the show. So in terms of my own practice – I think I have ended up doing more explaining and hopefully clarifying the rationale of exercises behind the ongoing process.

It is the job of the director to deliver the story with the cast and to enable all the departments and aspects of the production to come together to deliver the opening performance on time and on schedule. So this is what we have been doing. We now enter the technical phase where all the construction, design, sound, light, projection, costumes and props are all in the right places at the right time to deliver the story for the audience. So that is where we are. We did our first full run through yesterday, and the whole team did a fantastic job. I was really proud of them.

I will keep you updated on progress and how the tech goes – or if you want to come and see what we have made then come and join us from February 18th – the details are on the flyer at the top.

IMG_4780The acting team with myself and the Assistant Director Charissa Martinkauppi.