I find Nick the Stage Manager in the wings, hidden by the 'legs' -- huge black drapes which run from the floor to the top rig fourteen metres above. They remind me of sails. There are four legs on either side of the stage; they mask and frame the stage, and (for example) prevent the audience seeing an actor waiting in the wings; to be seen by the audience is to 'break a leg'. Above us are the 'borders', which hang and hem the space above and hide the lighting rigs. On the back wall is the 'full black' or cyclorama. Even in the half-light of an empty theatre on a Tuesday morning their effect pulls one up to the stage.
Nick is in the process of changing a rope on the fly system; this is a system of ropes, counterweights and pulleys which allow the technical crew to quickly move set pieces, lights, glitter balls and the occasional Peter Pan on and off stage by 'flying' them in from a large opening above the stage. These technicians are known as the 'fly-men'.
Nick starts hauling the new rope through the pulley before tying it off. There is a callus running like a wave crest along the top of his palm. 'This new rope is hemp. It softens with age.' He points to the old rope, thirty metres in a figure of eight on the deck. 'That's called sisal,' he says, 'it frays. The fibres can get in your eyes or stick in the skin of your hands.'
The fly system at The Lighthouse has thirty-nine ropes which sit in a bank to the left of stage. Each block and tackle is spaced evenly along its length and the taut ropes stretch up into the fly tower. We climb a metal spiral staircase to the middle deck and here each rope runs through a lever lock which fixes it in place. Thoretically, if the set is weighted correctly one can unlock the rope and nothing will move. In practise, though, it's been known for a fly-man to unlock and take-off with the rope to the gods.
The word 'stage' seems a misnomer to me. Nick talks of the space more in terms of a box, 10 by 10 by 10 metres. This central space is owned by the performance; it is the focal point, but surrounding it is the lens (the wings, the lighting, the fly system, the middle deck, the top rig) carefully hidden by curtain and drape. The auditorium is empty and our footsteps echo above the six-hundred odd silent seats. It's easy to believe in the superstition of the stage. No mirrors, no fresh flowers, no whistling--much like the superstitions of sailors. But, in setting to sea the ship is pulled on by full, white sails. Here the sails are black, stretched and weighted. They serve the stage by keeping it fixed and they allow for an altogether different journey.