Situated in the heart of Newcastle University’s main campus, Northern Stage Theatre is one of the most progressive production houses in the UK. With its three performance spaces, including a 450 seat main house, 160 seat studio and small multi-purpose development room for up-and-coming theatre companies and events, once new production manager Chris Durant arrived nearly a year ago, one of the immediate priorities was to improve the technical infrastructure.
Operating as a charity, the Theatre had done little to upgrade its technology since 2006, when the facility metamorphosed from its previous guise as the Newcastle Playhouse into Northern Stage. Durant already had plenty of experience of RCF’s high value systems, having authorised the spend on a new RCF D-Line line array while at Sage Gateshead, and he was soon back in contact with his local supplier, Nitelites. Having authorised the purchase of an RCF HD32-A active two-way system with SUB705 subwoofers, along with two NX10-SMA stage monitors for the newly refurbished Stage 3, he duly set out his blueprint for the main space.
He discussed the situation with executive director Kate Denby and artistic director Lorne Campbell arguing that it would be a false economy to hire in systems if they wanted to operate as a leading production house. “It was clear we needed our own,” he insisted — and fortunately the request was rubber-stamped. The production manager’s focus was on the ‘epic’ Christmas season production of Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach, in which both Stage 1 and Stage 2 would combine, with the 440 seats enveloping a giant, extended central stage. This helped define the sound system specification.
Nitelites director and system designer Andy Magee outlined the challenges. “While the theatre’s existing loudspeaker had been a premium system in its day it was over ten years old. Its coverage was too wide, it lacked projection and was unable to cover the rear of the room. I knew that with the HDL10-A there would be sufficient energy delivered to the back of the room while maintaining a consistent spectral balance throughout the listening area.”
Two main hangs of five HDL10-A per side are now suspended from a bridge truss while a further pair of HDL10-A, located behind the main array, fire down to cover the audience wrapped around the front of the giant stage. Low frequency is extended by two floor mounted SUB8004 subwoofers, while the system operates under BSS Soundweb control. Chris Durant is more than satisfied with this solution, believing that it has given the production house “a sonic signature”. He states, “For a space as wide as this you need projection, and compared with the point source we had previously, this delivers greater intelligibility with ample bandwidth and directivity, and a more even spread. There is now so much headroom it’s ridiculous.”
Equally delighted with the sonic makeover are fellow team specialists, head of sound Dave Burton, the Christmas show’s FOH engineer, Josep Bria and the show sound designer, Nick Williams. All expressed optimism for the future. Stated Williams: “The new HDL system at Northern Stage empowers the sound designer with such a high level of precision and consistency that it has transformed the space. I now know that every seat in the house can receive the same sonic experience. Mixing and creating in Northern Stage gives the same degree of precision and control that I have in my studio. It is a remarkable and enjoyable system to work with.” In conclusion, Chris Durant was unequivocal, noting the intimacy of the HDL10-A on the one hand combined with sheer power. He also confirmed that with its button presets, it was an easy system for house technicians to operate. “My aim is to produce three years of ‘epic’ Christmas shows so that it becomes a tradition for families. And with the RCF line array I have full confidence that we can deliver that.”