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Steam and digital engines work side by side as Yamaha equipment mixes the railway children

Jan,2011

Outside train spotting circles it’s rare that a steam locomotive takes centre stage in front of a rapt audience. But that’s exactly what happens with the latest stage production of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children. Making a major contribution to the show’s realism are a Yamaha PM5D console and DME64N digital mixing engine.

The venue is an unusual temporary theatre, erected around the disused former Eurostar platforms at London’s Waterloo station; the locomotive Stirling Single No.1, the National Railway Museum (NRM)-owned 140 year old veteran of the Great Northern route from London to York, Lincoln and Sheffield.

First put on at the NRM, the Waterloo production was originally scheduled just for the school summer holidays. However, it proved so popular that it was extended right through to the festive season. It’s a pleasing irony given that, for the past 40 years, this time of year wouldn’t have been quite the same without the iconic 1970 film of Nesbit’s book taking pride of place in the UK’s Christmas TV schedules,

The play’s action takes place in an area six metres deep by 45 metres wide, which covers two platforms and two tracks, one of which is covered over. Rolling ‘trucks’ allow the track to become part of the stage for the actors, while locomotive No.1’s entrance is inevitably a dramatic high point.

Sound supplier for the production is theatre specialists Orbital, with a Yamaha PM5D and DME64N at the heart of the system. A challenge for sound designer Craig Vear and associate designer Ed Clarke was the width of the performing area and audience seating, which meant sound reinforcement for the actors and sound effects had to cover a similarly wide area.

Their solution was a flown system comprising 10 d&b loudspeakers on a centre truss for music and effects, 10 more for delays and 14 further loudspeakers between them for vocal reinforcement, the latter also used for main effects.

This is where the DME64N proves so valuable, doubling the 24-channel output (16 of effects and eight vocal mixes) of the PM5D. With the vocal system divided into eight different zones, the voices can be routed to wherever each actor is speaking from. In addition, the DME controls every speaker individually, each having its own level and delay control. Amongst other advantages, if any actor moves to an area they aren’t expected to be speaking from, the system zoning can be easily altered to suit.

“It’s quite a complex show to operate, I’ve got around 400 scenes programmed on the PM5D, with about 300 cues that have to be taken visually and 120 call cues,” says the show’s sound operator Luke Freeborough. “At times we’re running through 40 cues every three minutes for the vocal zoning.”

He continues, “One of the challenges is when the actors wander from where they’re supposed to be. Then I have to move them through the vocal zones manually, but the way the PM5D and DME are set up means I can do it without any great problems.”

Ironically, a bigger challenge for Luke is Waterloo itself. The Eurostar platforms may be disused, but the rest of the station is the UK’s busiest, handling 88 million passengers a year.

“Competing with the station has been an issue, especially Platform 19, which is right behind us,” says Luke. “Rain also makes a lot of noise on the roof, sometimes we’re having to wring every ounce of headroom from the system.

“But I’ve been really happy with the PM5D and DME. I’ve been using Yamaha equipment for five or six years and the way they work together is brilliant. Cascading them means I can get through scenes very quickly, it’s been a real pleasure working with them.”

Data

Products PM5D , DME64N

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