d&b Soundscape Maps the Magic of Mary Poppins in the West End.
Everyone’s favorite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nanny returned to the West End stage in a reimagined musical version of the enduring PL Travers classic. It landed at Soho’s Prince Edward Theatre in the shadow of Disney’s big budget, CGI- and SFX-heavy hit 2018 film Mary Poppins Returns, which set a precedent for what audiences expect from ‘a Poppins experience’.
With this in mind, Cameron Mackintosh’s production team were determined to give theatre audiences a thrill, presenting an adventure not only in story, song and dance but also set design, lighting and, crucially, sound.
Sound designer Paul Gatehouse - who initially designed the sound for the Asian Premiere of Mary Poppins, in Tokyo, along with the recent hit musical about Henry VIII’s numerous wives, SiX, was enlisted to create a magical audio experience.
“I’d heard about d&b Soundscape and how it had been used on productions such as The Last Ship, [Sting’s 2018 musical] with Seb Frost at the helm, and its ability to open up creative options with sound, enabling a direct connection with the audience, stage, orchestra and sound design.
For a closer look, Gatehouse visited the UK HQ of d&b audiotechnik in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, for a hands-on demonstration of the DS100 Signal Engine and get to know the two software toolkits within Soundscape: En-Scene and En-Space.
Mary Poppins, thanks to its trippy, big-tune numbers, intimate solos and magical musical interludes presents a serious sonic opportunity for any sound designer.
“Soundscape opens up endless creative possibilities for this production,” Gatehouse continues. “We have a twelve-piece orchestra with each instrument coming into the DS100 as a discrete object, localized to where they are placed in the pit.”
On stage, we go from a world where it’s more ‘real’, for instance when we present a dark and smoky Edwardian London, to Jolly Holiday big production numbers with a vibrant palette of colour, to Step in Time, a big tap number.”
After building the venue in d&b ArrayCalc simulation software, Gatehouse collaborated with the d&b team on loudspeaker choice, auditioning cabinets to create a perfect match.
“We have a 360-system here and it’s probably one of the largest theatre deployments to date,” he says.
“There’s a lot of weight, low frequency and headroom, so we can create a really big, warm sound which is detailed at the same time.”
London-based Autograph Sound supplied all of the d&b equipment, including xS-Series, Y-Series, C-Series and E-Series loudspeakers and D20 and D80 amplifiers for the show. Autograph’s Adam Broom, whose experience with Soundscape includes its recent installation at Leeds Playhouse, comments, “The development of immersive audio is very much a hot topic for the industry and also many designers - we are seeing a significant interest and engagement in systems like this.
“Paul’s decisions on Mary Poppins make perfect sense in the context of the re-imagined production and the opportunity to explore new ways to engage the audience in the audio experience while crucially making the sound even more integral to the overall show. As one of the leaders in immersive audio, d&b has done a great job of supporting companies such as Autograph as well as offering fantastic application and design services to Paul and the rest of the team.”