Richard Pilbrow ~ Lighting Designer

The inaugural production at the National Theatre
.  Peter O'Toole as Hamlet in Sir Laurence Olivier's production,   Setting by Sean Kenny, lighting by Richard Pilbrow and costumes by Desmond Heeley.

Date: 1963
Photographer: Angus McBean  ©Angus McBean and National Theatre Archive.

Richard Pilbrow
Richard Pilbrow, Lighting designer and author.

Date: ca2000
Photographer: Unknown

Richard’s parents were Marjorie and Gordon Pilbrow,

In 1982, Richard received an award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) for; his many years contribution to the art of lighting, as designer, entrepreneur and consultant in both England and America,; and a Distinguished Life Time Achievement Award from the USITT in 1999.

In 2000 he also received from the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) their annual Technician of the Year.

Rosencranz John Stride and Edward Petherbridge in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic. Directed by Derek Goldby, designed by Desmond Heeley with lighting by Richard Pilbrow.

Date: 1967
Photographer: Unknown  ©Robert Workman and National Theatre Archive

Tom Stoppard's play 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' takes two minor characters from one of the most performed plays in British theatre, Hamlet, and puts them centre stage. The two of them, bit players in the action of Hamlet, have time on their hands. They hang about at the edges of the drama, occasionally caught up in the action, and forced to play out the destiny written for them.

Stoppard, born Tomas Straussler, of Czech origins, was not quite 30 when 'Rosencrantz' was produced by the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic in 1967, following the success of a student production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Rosencrantz 2
Stride and Edward Petherbridge in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic. Directed by Derek Goldby, designed by Desmond Heeley with lighting by Richard Pilbrow.

Date: 1967
Photographer: Robert Workman.  ©Robert Workman and National Theatre Archive

Richard Pilbrow

Born in 1933 at Beckenham, Richard Pilbrow is an internationally renowned stage lighting designer, author, theatre design consultant, and theatrical producer, film producer and television producer. He was the first British lighting designer to light a Broadway musical on the Broadway stage with the musical Zorba.

In the 1950s, Pilbrow entered the Central School of Speech and Drama in London as a stage management student after serving two years in the Royal Air Force. In 1957, he co-founded the lighting rental company Theatre Projects with Bryan Kendall, which expanded to include a production company in 1963 to produce and mount the London production of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum with set designer Tony Walton and American Producer Hal Prince.

In 1963 Pilbrow became lighting director to Laurence Olivier for the National Theatre at Chichester and the Old Vic Theatre. From 1966 he joined the National Theatre Building Committee and the following year was appointed theatre consultant to the new National Theatre on the South Bank. He was responsible for the stage design, backstage planning and all the performance equipment design (with Richard Brett) of the Olivier and Lyttelton Theatres. Theatre Projects Consultants, with Iain Mackintosh, was responsible for the design of the Cottesloe (now Dorfman) Theatre.

Theatre Projects Consultants, which designs theatres and performing arts buildings, has gone on to design world-renowned spaces such as the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Pilbrow worked on Broadway for the first time as the projection designer, with lighting designer Jean Rosenthal of Prince's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A year later, his second projection assignment on Broadway with Golden Boy allowed him to work with lighting designer Tharon Musser. Also in 1964, Pilbrow and Robert Ornbo were the first English lighting designers to ever be invited to join the United Scenic Artists. Pilbrow went on to light eleven Broadway shows—earning Tony nominations for Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and The Life.

In 1970, he published the book Stage Lighting Design: The Art, The Craft, The Life which is still a standard textbook in lighting programs in both America and Britain. A new edition of the book was published in September 2008. In 2011 his autobiographical account; A Theatre Project — A Backstage Story' was published.

Pillbrow was the lighting designer for the 2008 Jill Santoriello musical adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway. He won the 1995 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lighting Design for Show Boat and was nominated for the same award for A Tale of Two Cities in 2009.

Pilbrow is a Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts and London's Central School of Speech and Drama.

Pilbrow's approach to stage lighting and his book were seminal influences on the lighting practice of Ayr Intimate Opera.

[Text based on personal biographies and entry in Wikipaedia.]

The Broadway productiion of a Tale of Two Cities at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York.   Directed by Warren Carlyle, set designer Tony Walton, costume designer David Zinn and lighting designer Richard Pilbrow

Date: 2008
Photographer:© Michael Gottlieb

2 CitiesThe Broadway productiion of a Tale of Two Cities at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York.   View of the stage from the control room showing computerised lighting control eaquipment

Date: 2008
Photographer:© Michael Gottlieb

A Tale of Two Cities

'A Tale of Two Cities' is the first Broadway production to integrate three recent developments in lighting control. Here, Strand Lighting’s Light Palette VL (with Universal Attribute Control) combine with “WYSIWYG” and “Virtual Magic Sheet” for a more dynamic, intuitive and designer-friendly graphic representation of the output and orientation of the stage lighting installation.

The tradition of setting cues for stage lighting has long included reliance by the lighting designer on an elaborate array of papers and mnemonic devices to identify the dimmers and their levels, as well as the positions of the stage lights.  While a small Off-Broadway show may use 12 or 24 dimmers, A Tale of Two Cities employs over 1,300 channels of lighting control for the dimmers, robotic lights, fog machines and other effects.  The advancing maturity of the lighting designer’s art, inspired by the trend in modern productions toward cinematic images, pushes the limits of organization and record-keeping for the designer, potentially hindering the ability to react spontaneously and efficiently to inspiration as it occurs during technical rehearsals.

In the Sixties, lighting designer Richard Pilbrow sought a simpler and more intuitive method of lighting control.  Reacting to the tradition of multiple potentiometers, teams of men raising and lowering levers backstage, and elaborate pipe-organ styled consoles, he developed Lightboard for London’s National Theatre.  This computer memory control, followed by developments in the US, changed the craft and technique of stage lighting.  In 1976 on Broadway, the first production to use computer control for stage lighting was A Chorus Line, designed by Tharon Musser.  Theatrical vendors, unions and landlords adapted, and now all Broadway productions use computerized lighting control that memorizes every state of lighting and reproduces it exactly on demand.

The introduction of computer controlled ‘robotic’ lighting — lights able to remotely change direction, color and beam characteristics greatly increased the demands placed upon lighting control. From simply control of a light’s brightness, these new automated fixtures might have as many as 36 differant attributes all requiring memorization. .   .  

The National Theatre production of Alexander Ostrovsky's The Storm at the Old Vic. Directed by John Dexter, designed by Josef Svoboda with lighting by Richard Pilbrow

Date: 1966
Photographer: George Walker.   ©George Walker and National Theatre Archive.

For further information on this project please follow this LINK

A scene from the Broadway production of Zorba at the Directed by Harold Prince, Scenic Design Boris Aronson, Costume Design Patricia Zipprodt and Lighting Design Richard Pilbrow


Return to Designer List

Pilbrow is a pioneer of modern stage lighting in Britain and his work has been seen in London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Moscow.

He was the first British lighting designer to design the lighting for a Broadway musical, Zorba.  He was the lighting designer of the Hal Prince hit revival of Show Boat on Broadway (Drama Desk Award, Outer Circle Critics Award-lighting), in Toronto (Dora Award - Outstanding Lighting) and on tour throughout the US (NAACP Award for Lighting); and the Cy Coleman musical The Life, for which he received a Tony Award nomination. He was lighting designer for Our Town with Paul Newman at the Westport Playhouse, on Broadway and for a hi-definition video for PBS.

In 2006 Richard was represented as a lighting designer (with Dawn Chiang) on the USA National tour of The Boy Friend for Goodspeed Summer Musicals, for which he also lit Where’s Charley? and Very Good Eddie.

During the 1960’s and 70’s the Theatre Projects Lighting design team grew to include such luminaries as Robert Ornbo, Robert Bryan, John B. Read, David Hersey, Andrew Bridge, Graham Large, Benny Ball, Steve Kemp, Molly Friedel, Nick Chelton, Durham Maranghi, Nigel Levings and others; many of whom began as Richard’s assistants.

2007/11 productions included a new full length ballet for American Ballet Theatre “The Sleeping Beauty” (with Dawn Chiang) designed by Tony Walton, at the Metropolitan Opera House; “The Tale of Two Cities” — a New Musical at the Hirschfeld Theatre in September 2008; “Candida” at the Irish Rep, directed and designed by Tony Walton in March 2010, “Molly Sweeney” (with Michael Gottlieb) by Brian Friel, directed by Charlotte Moore and designed by James Morgan; “Dancing at Lughnasa” directed by Charlotte Moore (again with Michael Gottlieb).

Top  ~  Contact Us  ~  Cookies and Site Information  ~