Award in London PLASA 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I was particularly gob-smacked to receive the Knights of Illumination Lifetime Recognition Award at the annual dinner  in London on September 11, 2011.

My extreme surprise came from my being duped into attending by my friends, Durham Maranghi and Mark Jonathan, who had invited me to help give away the Awards for theatrical lighting! This duty over, they pulled a fast one!

Thank you to all.

“But the night''s standing ovation went to Richard Pilbrow, whose lifetime as a lighting designer, from the West End in the 1950s to the new National Theatre and beyond, was resoundingly recognised by his peers.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was announced by designer Durham Marenghi, who said Pilbrow had inspired several generations of lighting designers ever since establishing the UK’s first lighting design company in 1957.

Taking to the podium Pilbrow said: ‘we lighting designers have been rather belatedly seeking a little more recognition. When I began, nobody really wanted me at all...’ and added, ‘I must pay my deep regards and thanks to Clay Paky and the other sponsors for taking the lead initiative in this’.
Each winner received the traditional Knight of Illumination trophy, an authentic medieval battle sword handmade in Toledo, Spain.”


No dissent of any kind last night at the fourth annual Knight of Illumination Awards sponsored by Italian lighting industry suppliers Clay Paky in the Hyde Park Hilton, where Bruno Poet was dubbed on both shoulders for his sensational work on the National''s Frankenstein, and Hugh Vanstone ennobled for his colourful, scene clinching contribution to The Wizard of Oz at the Palladium.

But the night''s, and the Knights'', standing ovation went to Richard Pilbrow, whose creative lifetime as a designer, theatre consultant and producer, stretching from the West End in the 1950s through to the new National Theatre and beyond, was resoundingly recognised by his peers.

In 1957 he founded the first ever lighting company, Theatre Projects, and has tripped the light fantastic ever since, though he said, "when I started, nobody wanted me... and the pay''s still shit!"

He''s a wonderful man, Pilbrow, and I can''t wait to read his new book. He now lives in Connecticut. Why? "I love it there, and I left this country when they kept on building such bad theatres." I listed a few: Chichester, the Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse, the National (Olivier and Lyttelton)... he didn''t demur.

What theatres does he like? The Sheffield Crucible and the Cottesloe. That''s about the size of it. His first shows as co-producer were A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and She Loves Me, but I think the one that meant most to him was Company by George Furth and Stephen Sondheim. He said he will never forget the night it opened, and the audience went stir crazy. I saw that first London production in 1972 three times: it still only ran for a year. 

Pilbrow said that when he joined the Association of Lighting Designers he was the only member. Today, there are two thousand, working right across the entertainment industry in theatre, dance, opera, television and rock concerts.

London has the best theatre, and Broadway used to have the best theatre technicians. Now I suspect we have the best of both worlds, and much of this reputation is down to one of our truly great unsung heroes: the prodigious Pilbrow.

- by Michael Coveney