Artwork for From Darkness to Light
The cast of Così. Photo: Jeff Busby
Lighting Design


From Darkness to Light

Lighting designer Niklas Pajanti discusses lighting effects as an expression of the characters in Così.

How would you describe the lighting design you’re creating for Così? What is the world of this play?

The time is 1971. The play is set in a fire damaged theatre at a Melbourne mental institution. So the lighting design will reflect both the real world of the institution, an abandoned, damaged building, and the internal world of the patients who have also been abandoned and are damaged people. There will be small moments of magical realism; lighting effects that don't exist in reality but are an expression of the patients thought processes, ideas or flights of fancy due to being heavily medicated.

What kinds of lights are you using in your design?

I will use a combination of fixtures. Visible onstage will be some lights that are accurate for the era (1960-70's technology) and everywhere else I will use the more contemporary equipment commonly used in theatres today. Intelligent fixtures including moving heads and LEDs and also modern tungsten fixtures.

In your opinion, what is Così about? How does your design support the play’s big ideas?

Così is about a lot of things. It is very ‘of its time’. Louis Nowra was exploring the culture and politics of contemporary Australia in the 1970's; the Vietnam War, Communism, gender politics, drug usage, definitions of sanity. He is also making fun of (in a loving way) theatre makers. He comically demystifies opera by deftly stripping back and deconstructing Così fan tutte as part of the action onstage.

Così is also about the transformative and therapeutic nature of theatre making or storytelling. My lighting will support this as a progression from bleak naturalism to more magical heightened realities as the play unfolds, the rehearsals continue, and the characters gain confidence in themselves.

Sarah Goodes mentioned a journey from black/darkness to white/light in the design presentation. How does your design support this concept?

I will quite literally support this concept by starting the show in darkness and by the end we will have progressed to bright colourful lighting for the finale of the play. The external world visible through the doors is glowing white and by the end of the play we will turn the black burnt out theatre inside out and bring that external luminescence into the space. The characters carry that transformation in piece by piece.

What has been your approach for lighting the play within the play, Così fan tutte. What considerations have informed your ‘opera’ design?

My mini opera design has been one of the most fun aspects of rehearsals. I have been treating it exactly as I do the larger design concepts presented to me by Sarah Goodes (Director) and Dale Ferguson (Set Designer). I have to respond to the opera set design and costumes and the story inside the story. It is the part of the show where I will get to add the most colour and be a bit over the top. Like all opera is.



Glenn Hazeldine, Robert Menzies, Esther Hannaford, Bessie Holland, Sean Keenan and Katherine Tonkin. Photo: Jeff Busby

Is there a particular moment in the play that you’re especially excited about, regarding your design?

Yes. But no spoilers. I can say though that the theatre itself, the burnt out room they're rehearsing in, is also a character in the show. It will have a presence all of it's own that will be obvious at some times and may be more subtle at others but all of these moments will be satisfying to me.

Is there anything else about your lighting design that you’d like to share?

There are multiple special effects in this show that I have to specifically light or support through lighting. Objects that have a certain life of their own due to the focus put upon them by a patient, imbuing them with a bit of magic. On a more practical note this show is transferring to the Sydney Opera House later in the year so an important aspect for me is to keep in mind that anything I do in The Sumner, I have to be able to recreate in the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. These two venues are very different in size and shape so it's a challenge to make this lighting design work in both spaces.

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