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Editor’s View: The lamps are going out all over Europe

Imelda Staunton in Follies – one of the high profile shows which uses tungsten lighting. Photo: Johan Persson Imelda Staunton in Follies – one of the high-profile shows which uses tungsten lighting. Photo: Johan Persson
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At the Olivier Awards earlier this month, people wanted to talk about only one thing. It wasn’t the abysmal weather, nor how many awards Hamilton was going to win, not even the organiser’s admirable decision to theme the evening in support of Time’s Up.

It was the European Union’s Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019, and the proposals to replace EU regulation 1194/2012 and related regulations. In layman’s terms this is the EU’s plan to phase out tungsten bulbs from everyday use and replace them with more energy-efficient alternatives.

As I was walking up the sodden red carpet, I was collared by West End impresario Nica Burns, who explained that she feared the industry was sleepwalking into a catastrophe.

Theatres face shock £180m bill under EU lighting proposals

Theatre has known for some time that it would have to replace tungsten bulbs under energy-efficiency regulations. The changes are not targeted at theatre lighting but the current plan will remove an exemption, meaning that most theatre lights will be governed under the same rules as domestic, office and industrial lighting.

Huge swathes of lighting equipment used in theatre productions across Europe will have to be scrapped

Initially, lighting professionals thought this would be painful but not disastrous, as they would largely be able to replace tungsten fixtures with LED ones. However, it turns out that most of these will also fall foul of the proposed legislation. Huge swathes of lighting equipment used in theatre productions across Europe will have to be scrapped. At the moment, there is no viable alternative.

Yes, this is about money. The £185 million it will cost is the equivalent of three times what UK theatre has gained in tax relief since its introduction in 2014. It is nearly double the portfolio funding Arts Council England gives theatre organisations every year.

But, as well as the money, this is an artistic problem. The lighting design for existing shows will have to be revisited and new productions will also be adversely affected.

Lighting supplier White Light used to run a striking advert that was a black page with the words ‘No show looks good in the dark’ emblazoned across it.

Likewise, this is not just a problem for those who work in lighting. It is a problem for actors, directors, stage managers, producers – anyone who works in theatre or likes watching theatre.

Please respond to the EU consultation on these proposals that runs until May 7. The Association of Lighting Designers has produced some excellent guidance about how you can lobby your MP or MEP on its website.

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