My Lewes: Paul Pyant

October 25, 2019

 

  

What brought you to Lewes, and when? I studied Theatre at RADA and, when I emerged, got my first job by utter happenstance at Glyndebourne. So I moved to Lewes in 1974 – and here I still am.

 

You’re a giant among stage lighting designers. What, for you, makes great lighting? The way I think about it is often mundanely practical! It’s my job to shine a light on what the director and designer have in mind – and to achieve that in reality, within budget, and so on. Partly, it’s a question of managing expectations. And for each production, it’s a long process. The work’s also changed beyond recognition – it used to be, as someone said to me the other day, lightbulbs in tin cans. Today most lighting equipment is highly technical or ‘intelligent’ – although I prefer to think of it as ‘obedient’; I’d worry if they were up there thinking what on earth was I up to...

 

Presumably it’s as much about what isn’t lit as what is? Absolutely. I’m never afraid of darkness. In fact, for me, there’s nothing as exciting as a dark stage. With a bit of mist. One actor, one light...

 

You spent many years at Glyndebourne. Does that feel like home? It’s my spiritual home. I grew up there, working with the most incredible people – Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn. I didn’t know anything about opera. It was an epiphany for me. The sheer beauty of it – and on such a grand scale. It’s a wonderfully unique place to have here, I think, on our doorstep.

 

What for you, is ‘theatre’? It’s that thing: a rainy Monday morning turning up to some grotty rehearsal room for a run through – and ending up transported all because of the skill of the actor, writer or director without any help from scenery, costume, lighting. If the chemistry works, theatre’s magnificent. Like our 1993 opening production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the National – with Bill Nighy, Samuel West, Felicity Kendal – which won ALL the awards that year. It all came together – it doesn’t always! But when it does… I felt like this too, finding myself in a room with Maggie Smith and Alan Bennett doing his Talking Heads. There’s a thing called ferocious perfectionism; Maggie Smith has it.

 

What do you like about Lewes? (Bonfire?) I think the town’s filled with quirky, interesting, fairly mad characters. I do think it’s lost its connection with its surroundings, over the years; and miss some of the old independent shops like Elphicks and Lucy of Lewes. But I love gardening – I have what was three gardens behind my house in Friars Walk. Living there, I’m obliged to embrace Bonfire: three of the societies process past my door. So I have an open house. And I like the creaky buildings. I used to work in your old offices, in Pipe Passage, alongside David Jarman. Working late I might look out of the terrace door and be aware of eyes on me in the dark: the eyes of the hundreds of frogs that congregated to mate in our pond. 

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