“…As the Queen of Hearts herself says, “love makes the world a better place,” and indeed Greenwich’s annual festive fare, fully crafted with love, sets the gold standard for pantomime…” So says the British Theatre Guide of Andrew Pollard’s much-loved traditional Christmas panto, the Queen of Hearts, which is running at Greenwich Theatre until 2nd January 2022. In addition to the excellent reviews, this year’s production is marked by a new sound design from Michael Woods based on a HALO-C compact line array system from EM Acoustics. Woods is now in his fourth year of designing sound for pantomime at Greenwich Theatre and last year received an Offie nomination for Best Sound Design for ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ which played at Southwark Playhouse in spring 2019.
In previous years for Greenwich Theatre’s panto, Woods opted for two point source loudspeakers on the proscenium for main LR and two more on towers in the auditorium as delays to help maintain the desired sound pressure levels from front to back of the auditorium. “Whilst I have found this method generally acceptable, it did compromise sound quality for some seats towards the centre of the auditorium where the coverage overlapped,” he notes. “In this area, comb filtering was present in varying amounts from seat to seat and it seemed a shame to sacrifice sound quality in this part of the auditorium. This year I was keen to try something different and everything was pointing towards line array technology as the solution.”
The requirement was for a light, compact system and HALO-C from EM Acoustics seemed an obvious solution. “Previously I had been very impressed with the clarity of these boxes for vocal reinforcement; however, I was slightly unsure how well they would reproduce full range live music,” continues Woods. “Following advice from sound designer Greg Clarke, who had used HALO-C in demanding environments, I was pleasantly surprised by how well such compact cabinets held their own at high sound pressure levels, delivering very clean audio. The sound reproduction is natural and well balanced and I found it very responsive to gentle EQ. The arrays provide even coverage across the auditorium and their throw to the back of the venue is impressive for the number of boxes being used.”
Woods specified L/C/R hangs of six, eight and six HALO-C elements respectively supplemented by two flown S-18 subwoofers and two more on the ground. Front fill, down fill and delay duties are performed by a total of thirteen compact EMS-61s whilst two EMS-81s help with midstage imaging. A further two EMS-81s and four EMS-61s provide foldback. Amplification is from four EM Acoustics DQ20Ds and five DQ6Ds; Woods points out the advantage of Dante-enabled amplifiers, with the signal remaining in digital domain from the stage rack inputs all the way to the amplifiers, thus maximising audio quality. A Yamaha CL5 performs FoH and monitor mixing.
“I found that the combination of HALO-C paired with S-18 subs, produced a very exciting sound,” recalls Woods. “In fact, playing one particular test track (Broken Skin by Nitin Sawhney) through the system instantly put a smile across my face. This track highlighted the tight, impactful bass from the S-18 subs and the smooth mids and detailed HF from the HALO-C boxes.”
“As Greenwich Theatre has a thrust stage, getting the sound right for the diagonal side seating banks is always a challenge,” continues Woods. “With HALO-C we had precise control of the high frequency vertical dispersion which was needed to shoot the HF over the heads of audience members in the diagonal side banks. The EMS-61 front fills have worked wonderfully providing full range audio for these seats.”
Another potential headache for Woods came from the fact that this year he had to design for a new panto format with the live band onstage rather than in the pit, which was likely to create difficulties with noise exposure. He specified perspex screening for the acoustic drum kit and increased the number of foldback speakers to provide more control over monitor levels onstage: “Two EMS-81s are providing broad coverage over the midstage area and four EMS-61s split between downstage and upstage are being used for more localised control over these areas.”
“I’m delighted with the results,” says Woods in conclusion. “I have already used the EMS Series extensively and am never disappointed with the results. HALO-C is an equal pleasure to use; the output from such a compact loudspeaker is nothing short of phenomenal and I’ve found that the voicing across the range is very similar, which is a great strength when deploying a variety of loudspeakers in the same system. It’s been a great experience and I look forward to the next opportunity to use EM Acoustics on a show.”