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Obituary: Mick Hughes

Mick Hughes. Photo: Chris Tranchell Mick Hughes. Photo: Chris Tranchell

A prolific and consistently imaginative lighting designer, had Mick Hughes been a painter he would have excelled in watercolours, able to evoke setting and atmosphere with a deft, often bewitching, subtlety.

With a signature sensitivity to character, place and mood, his work was seldom out of the  West End – his profile there matched by his equally admired standing in the US and Dublin – and frequently on the stages of the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre. He also enjoyed long-standing partnerships with the playwright-directors Harold Pinter and Alan Ayckbourn and the director Robin Lefevre, and lit the opening productions of the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester (1976) and the Lyric Hammersmith (1979).

Born in London to a cemetery superintendent-father, he spent his national service with the RAF and afterwards trained as a BBC cameraman before taking a variety of odd jobs and then joining the Margate Stage Company as an electrician in 1961. His designing career began after joining John B Read at the newly built Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford in 1965. From 1967-72, he directed 40 productions for John Hole at the Swan Theatre, Worcester.

His long association with Chichester began in 1966 with Jean Anouilh’s The Fighting Cock, its transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre giving him his West End debut. He made his National Theatre debut with a gentle, bucolic treatment of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession in 1971 and first worked with Ayckbourn on Time and Time Again at the Comedy Theatre the following year.

Always the consummate designer, Hughes responded to the futuristic dystopia of Terrance Dick’s Seven Keys to Doomsday (Adelphi Theatre, 1974), the multimedia modernity of Harry Nilsson’s The Point (Mermaid Theatre, 1977) and Pinter’s claustrophobic The Caretaker (National Theatre, 1980) with ease.

He was lighting designer of choice for Pinter and Ayckbourn throughout the 1980s and 1990s, notably for the former’s revivals of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 1985) and Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (Comedy Theatre, 1996), and for the latter’s two-part Revengers’ Comedies (Strand Theatre, 1991), Communicating Doors (Gielgud Theatre, 1995) and the ambitious House and Garden, simultaneously staged on the National’s Olivier and Lyttelton stages in 2000.

His ventures into opera included Gilbert and Sullivan for the New Sadler’s Wells Opera company, Janacek’s Jenufa (Welsh National Opera, 1984), Donizetti’s Don Pasquale  (English National Opera, 1993).

Broadway appearances included Brian Friel’s Wonderful Tennessee (1993) and Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s By Jeeves (2001).

He received an Irish Theatre Award for Shaw’s Heartbreak House and Frank McGuinness’ Innocence at the Gate Theatre, Dublin in 1986, and the inaugural Theatrical Management Association lighting design award for Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester) in 2008.

Michael ‘Mick’ Hughes was born on  May 10, 1938 and died on January, 5 aged 79.

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