EM Acoustics raises the roof with Fiddler in London’s West End

Following a completely sold-old run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Trevor Nunn’s exuberant revival of the classic Broadway Musical, Fiddler on the Roof, has taken up residence in the West End at London’s Playhouse Theatre to give theatregoers another chance to experience this magnificent production. Renowned sound designer, Gregory Clarke, was approached by Nunn to design both productions. Clarke chose to use EM Acoustics equipment throughout, based on a main HALO-C line array system supplemented by EM Acoustics’ ubiquitous EMS Series for the wider vocal and orchestra systems.

Clarke explains that the design brief for this highly acclaimed version of Fiddler was to create an immersive experience for the audience; “A great deal of work was done to modify the auditorium in order to transform it from a familiar West End venue into a plausible Russian village. It looks and feels wonderful but inevitably loudspeaker positions were severely limited. HALO-C was instrumental in mitigating this and the sheer headroom in the smaller EMS Series boxes meant that even where space was almost impossibly tight, audio delivery was not compromised.”

The main proscenium arrays comprise L/R hangs of five cabinets each and a centre array of ten for a total of 20 HALO-C elements. “I specified HALO-C because I simply adore the way it sounds,” declares Clarke. “In fact it is fair to say I fell in love the first time I heard it, not least because finally I knew I would be able to use a line array with full confidence that the audio performance had not been compromised. The AMT high frequency drivers were a revelation and a genuine game changer. I had already used the system on UK and Broadway shows and so was familiar with its capabilities in a wide variety of contexts.”

While there are many today who maintain that a line array is not an ideal solution for proscenium systems, Clarke is entirely comfortable with his choice. “There are some entirely valid arguments against line array on theatre prosceniums. Of course, the validity of those arguments depends largely on which line arrays are used. The HALO-C system behaves and sounds like a bent point source but delivers prodigious energy and excitement across an extended vertical plane that point sources simply cannot. It’s also true to say that there is no point source box on the face of the planet that sounds the same as a slab of Cs.”

Clarke has supplemented the main arrays with a panoply of EMS Series cabinets to ensure smooth and even coverage across every seat in the theatre. “Consistency in system voicing is critical to me as a designer and the entire EMS range has an almost supernatural uniformity of personality. Naturally, the larger boxes have more in the tank than the smaller ones but the DNA is very clearly the same. The wider vocal and orchestral system consists of EMS-81s,   129s, 61s, 51s, and 41s and 112 subs. Of the smaller boxes, I continue to be staggered by the sheer ability of the 51s and 61s in vocal systems, and the 41s are a very welcome addition to the stable. I used EM Acoustics’ DQ10 and DQ20 amplifiers which sound amazing, so it it really is a full EM system from top to bottom.”

Tom Aspley is head of sound at the Playhouse Theatre, and he is very pleased with the results, particularly as EM Acoustics was a new discovery for him. “This is the first time I’ve used EM Acoustics speakers on a show and it’s always a welcome opportunity to try out different equipment,” he says. “I like the small speakers such as the EMS-51s & 61s which we use for delays and fills; they perform just as well as a similar speaker from some of the bigger manufacturers.”

“The show is very natural sounding, and although the dialogue is amplified subtly and the intimate songs retain this intimate feeling by restraint in volume, there are moments where the show gets loud. Greg’s EM Acoustics sound design handles this large dynamic range of the show perfectly which gives the loud moments even more impact.”