Children of the Blitz
Set and Lighting:
Children of the Blitz does not call for complicated sets. Scenes can change fairly quickly within the play - flitting between a variety of indoor and outdoor locations - and the primary need, therefore, is for a large uncluttered space that will not hinder the fluidity of the action.
Specific locations are best suggested through the use of simple pieces of furniture and props. For instance, the Holden house simply needs a battered dining table and chairs which can be moved on and off stage as needed. The Anderson shelter could be created by placing bench type seats to suggest the seating within the shelter.
Lighting should then be used to switch the focus and attention to different areas of the stage as needed. It is useful to divide the stage into different pools of light as well as being able to provide general cover. Lighting should be used to suggest different times of day and can help differentiate between interior and exterior locations through the use of leaf break up gobos in profile spotlights.
If opting for an open stage, then do give some thought to the general appearance of the stage. It needs to "neutral" so that it does not overly define the space but not so bland as to hold no visual interest at all. A cyclorama can be immensely beneficial - both as a "sky cloth" and to act as a projection screen.
You may well find that the projection of evocative images from the period could well enhance the general stage appearance and atmosphere in scenes.
In the original production, I went for a symbolic approach. For me, one of the abiding images that I have of the second world war is of families gathered around radio sets (a wireless) listening intently for news from the war. I decided to build on this image by creating an enormous replica wireless (about eight feet high) on a raised area at the rear of the stage. This had lights built into it and thus could be illuminated when it was "on". This was then used whenever a wartime speech was broadcast. It was also used to cover scene changes - lights on stage would dim or blackout and the radio would light up and play period music as the scene was changed.
The rest of the space was simply a black box curtain set. However, in order to give a little more interest and evoke a flavour of the period, we suspended four large scaled up wartime posters ("Careless talk costs lives" "Be like dad - keep mum" etc) around the space.
Of course, you could opt for a more complex set, perhaps with "concrete" elements surrounding the open space - the air raid shelter. the Holden house and a pulpit for the vicar for instance. Alternately, more detailed sets could be trucked on and off.
You may find it beneficial to have a variation in levels on the stage to add visual interest. "Voices of authority" such as the vicar and officials benefit from being raised a little.
At the very end of the show, I have always had the cast flood the stage and dance together to the sound of Glenn Millar's "In the Mood" trying to capture that wartime dance atmosphere. For the bow I have then had pairs of dancers come to the front of the stage and take a bow before leaving. The major characters dance together and are the last to take their bow and leave. If the audience are calling for more then I have sent the whole cast back on for a collective bow. How you stage the curtain call is - of course - up to you!
Smoke machine - this is very useful for two scenes. The first is the scene at the railway station when it can evoke the steam from the trains. The second is towards the end of act two, when Helen returns to the farm to find it has been destroyed. The use of the smoke and spare use of lighting can really add to the emotion of this scene. Smoke machines can usually be hired from theatrical lighting companies.
Pyrotechnics - the air raid. The air raid can be successfully evoked through the use of lighting and sound effects alone. However, to have a realy big impact then the use of pyrotechnics is highly recommended.
The use of pyrotechnics can be a little daunting if you haven't used them before. Do not be tempted to go to your science department and ask if they can provide a little flash and explosion for you. You must only use equipment designed for use in the theatre with a proper electronic ignition system. This should be available from your local theatre lighting hire company who will be able to give you specific advice on its use.
The pyrotechnics should be used at the very end of the scene when the bombs fall directly on the village close to the shelter. You should already have established the raid through the use of sound and flashes of light showing the explosions of anti-aircraft shells and later bombs. You will need to have a couple of theatrical flashes - these give an ultra bright flash and a small "nuclear" type plume of smoke. What really makes this effect though is the use of a theatrical maroon.
Maroons are in effect small explosives and come in various sizes. In most instances the smallest will be loud enough! Maroons can be dangerous and must only be used in accordance with their safety rules. Maroons must be suspended placed in a "bomb tank" and this taken must be isolated well away from the main action with all staff at a safe distance. I have mainly used bomb tanks situated under the stage. They can usually be hired from theatrical lighting suppliers. It is possible to use a welded steel industrial class dustbin (do not put the top on - use mesh!) or a steel water tank covered with mesh as a substitute. Warning - you must not use a standard metal dustbin (the sort with the dimpled panels). I did this once with a small size maroon - after we exploded the maroon in rehearsal we discovered that it had literally blown the dustbin apart! Maroons must be used in tank - the tank must be made of welded steel. If in doubt hire a proper bomb tank.
Safety considerations aside - the effect on the audience of the maroon going off is enormous and gives a huge sense of the impact of an explosion in an enclosed theatre. I have seen whole audiences shocked out of their seats when one of these goes off so make sure that you have issued appropriate warning notices just you would if using a strobe light. The maroon and flashes should be set off simultaneously and timed to coincide with an appropriate bomb falling sound effect. (see sounds section in support). The "bomb" going off togther with sreams from the girls in the shelter should end the scene. The post bomb reactionin the audience will easily give you enough time to change the scene under the cover of a blackout!
Pyrotechnics must only be used under close supervision by responsible adults. They must only be set off by the use of a key protected ignition system. If in doubt - don't use them - stick with the sound effects.