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Rob Halliday: Standing on the shoulders of giants helped light my path

Michael Bogdanov

Sometimes, you know you want to say something, but don’t quite know what. So here goes.

I worked for Michael Bogdanov – who passed away in April [1] – straight out of college, as the number two lighting and sound on his English Shakespeare Company tour of Twelfth Night [2] and then in rep with that company on Macbeth.

With Michael Pennington directing Twelfth Night, Bogdanov – ‘Bodger’ to all – appointed himself lighting designer, an interesting throwback to directors from an earlier generation. Looking back I suspect he just wanted to keep an eye on things.

For Macbeth, Michael was back in the director’s chair; Chris Ellis lit the show. These two had been working together forever, at Leicester, at the National and far beyond.

Watching them at work was an eye-opener, it was a real insight into the short-hand that shared experience, mutual respect and absolute trust can bring.

It felt like Michael just let Chris get on with it, and that Chris wasn’t afraid to speak up when a bit of restaging could help the lighting, or when he had a wider opinion to offer.

It felt just like how this sort of relationship should be. It was slightly disappointing to later discover it wasn’t always like that.

Chris had clearly been around long enough not to get frustrated by the seemingly never-ending micro-adjustment to the position of chairs, which I suspect drove all of Michael’s stage managers crazy.

Eighteen years later, back in Swansea where we’d teched Macbeth for the musical version of The Thorn Birds [3], a whole new generation of stage managers learned about that same fastidiousness.

Remarkably, Bodger seemed exactly the same in every other regard, too – that short, jolly figure with the twinkling eyes, the boundless enthusiasm, the occasional impatience but the remarkable sense of company, particularly in the pub post-tech. Just with a bit more grey in the hair.

You can get a sense of all that through the writings on his rather wonderful website [4]. I heartily recommend them, though it will make you feel the loss of his zeal, his constant quest to make Shakespeare, in fact to make all theatre, accessible to everyone. I hope some small part of that rubbed off on me.

Peter Hall, I only worked for once, on his production of Piaf for Elaine Paige. I ended up there by accident, and was in awe of everyone: designer John Gunter, lighting designer David Hersey, and of course the director.

I had grown up going to Hall’s National Theatre – that astonishing Antony and Cleopatra, magnificent even from the £2 standing row at the very back of the Olivier.

And then there I was, in a meeting with him and his team, talking about how to tour their show. Life-changing again.

Both men helped shape British theatre, and through that helped shape the work and lives of many people. One of those people was me. Rather belatedly, thank you both.