Riedel keeps Network on track at the National Theatre

The National Theatre has turned to Riedel to drastically reduce complexity and meet the signal distribution needs of its exceptional stage version of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Academy Award winning film Network.

Critically acclaimed production Network, currently running at the National Theatre (NT) in London, plays out against a backdrop of flickering screens, cameras and an on-stage, broadcast studio. 

Technology and operations staff - more commonly found behind the scenes at the theatre - are brought to the fore in this staggering performance that sees Brian Cranston, of Breaking Bad fame, take on the role of Howard Beale, a news anchor that unravels before the audience’s eyes. 

While Beale falls apart, the technology holds together for a show that places some serious demands on real time AV signal distribution. 

And there’s no doubt in the minds of the NT’s AV and production team that one of the stars of the show is the Riedel equipment that forms the backbone of the signal routing system. 

It was almost by luck that the theatre found the solution. It was in contact with Riedel having  purchased Artist and Bolero wired and wireless communications systems (also used for the performance) when a chance conversation with the German manufacturer made both parties realise that the specific signal distribution needs of Network could be met with a MediorNet MicroN system. 
“I’m not sure how we could have constructed the set in the time we had if the signal distribution was more complex.”

As well as renting the required system Riedel was able to use its experience to get hands on with the theatre’s technical team and reduce complexity in other ways. “We worked closely with the NT so that they could write an interface program for Ember+ protocol for integration with their lighting system,” explained Ben Tompsett, rental operations manager at Riedel. “This meant that they are able to fire macro commands for scene changes via the OSC protocol.”

The set includes a large central LED display as well as a number of monitors in the on-stage broadcast studio.  A professional cameraman – who doubles as a cast member - captures the action during many parts of the play, creating a unique production that diverts audience attention sometimes to the actors, and at other times to their depiction on screen. Cast members are even filmed outside the theatre at one point, with MediorNet continuing to handle the broadcast signal. 

Dominic Bilkey, head of sound and video, and Mogzi Bromley-Morgans, the video supervisor, at the NT provided a behind the scenes and on-stage tour of the set and enthused about the simplicity and flexibility the system delivered. 

While technically they knew they could meet the demands of the production, MediorNet allowed them to drastically reduce complexity. This was a crucial requirement when the additional challenge of swapping shows was faced during periods of Network’s five-month run.  When InAVate visited, the show was sharing the Lyttelton Theatre with Pinocchio, a production that, like Network was heavy on stage furniture and set materials. 

“We plug in five cables and we get 32 outputs,” noted Bilkey. “I’m not sure how we could have constructed the set in the time we had if the signal distribution was more complex. What’s certain is we’d have had a lot more cables.” 

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