Fawlty Towers

It’s been a busy month for theatrical photography. Earlier in the week I photographed three episodes of Fawlty Towers at Hertford Theatre. The three acts features The Hotel Inspector, The Germans and The Kipper and The Corpse.

Many productions have their own special challenges and this was no exception. The first and obvious challenge is that the action comes thick and fast. This is partly offset by the fact that the plotlines are well known, but the principal characters are quite animated, so there’s lots of movement (with the exception of The Major, Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby of course). So, relatively fast shutter speeds are the order of the day, and this means wide apertures and/or high ISOs. Given that the lighting was in general very good, I took a risk and chose ISO400 and shot in Aperture Priority. This typically gave me speeds of around 160th or 250th. I might have chosen ISO800 or even 1600 but I wanted to minimise noise, albeit at the risk of a few blurry photos!

The second challenge was the set. The action of Fawlty Towers takes place in a number of locations, including the lobby, dining room, bar and bedrooms. In this production, all of these locations were incorporated into a single set, using zones for each room.

Photo of the set for Fawlty Towers at Hertford Theatre

The centre of the stage represented the lobby, whilst the bar and dining room were set to the left and right, with view of the kitchen beyond the dining room. Cleverly, the bedrooms were quite literally on the first floor. All of this made for some interesting sightlines, not to mention giving the lighting technicians a few challenges.

I shot the bedroom scenes from the top of the raked seating at the back of the auditorium using a 55-200mm lens (APS crop-factor of 1.5 and a 35mm equivalent of 300mm). This gave me an adequate view of the staging, which is probably more than could be said for the audience in the front row.

Some of the bar and dining room scenes presented issues due to the restricted space and lighting at the very edge of the stage, but I was able to capture some perfectly good groupings nonetheless..

There was also a short scene set in the kitchen, where only the characters heads are visible. This again, was shot from halfway up the raked seating, allowing views over the top of the saloon doors. Unfortunately I didn’t get an ideal view as I should probably have been a little further up.

I find that setting the colour balance to tungsten often works well for stage lighting. The lighting angles during this scene created some quite strong shadows so I used Photoshop to raise the levels a little. The green cast represents the way the scene was lit.

If you like to find out more about the theatrical photography services I offer, please visit www.stevebeeston.co.uk.