The Railway Children
Orbital Sound has supplied the sound systems for The Railway Children production, being staged in the spectacular setting of London’s Waterloo Station.

The station’s former Eurostar platforms have been transformed into a 1,000-seat theatre, with the audience sitting along a 40m length of platform on either side of the track. Given the audience size and layout, and the constraints of the working-station environment, the audio system required an innovative approach – resulting in four distinct systems, all using d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers and complex routing and delays. The show is also among the first UK theatre productions to use moisture-resistant Da-Cappo Micro Microphones – which are distributed by Orbital in the UK.

The audio set-up was further compicated by the theatre being inside a black tent, inside a greenhouse, in hot sun. The seating had to be established alongside a straight section of track, with the nearest suitable length being some 400m down the track from the main station concourse. This situation compounded the load-in challenges, which involved every item of equipment having to be carried along underground tunnels and subways – a 15-minute walk – before reaching the concourse and setting off down the platform.

Following two critically-acclaimed, sell-out summer runs at the National Railway Museum in York, with York Theatre Royal, the Waterloo production is receiving equally excellent reviews. ‘The audience capacity for Waterloo Station had to be around twice that of the show in York, but without any substantial increase in the depth of the seating area, only to its length along the axis of the track,’ says Ed Clarke, the production’s associate sound designer. ‘We therefore ended up with a performance area 40m long. This, together with the station’s acoustics, required a much more elaborate approach than York, particularly for the vocal reinforcement, and to some extent for the train and other effects. To cover the audience successfully, and to ensure that the surround train effects could be perceived effectively across all seating positions, we designed four separate systems. However, two of these – the surround train effects, and the stereo music – effectively share one set of loudspeakers. We have a Yamaha DME64 handling the routing from the different sources, the levels of the different signals being fed, in some case, to the same loudspeakers, and the relatively complex set of delay times.

‘We configured the systems into eight delay zones along the track. The vocal system is using 16 d&b audiotechnik T10 speakers, while the background ambient-effects system is arranged as a four-point surround, with d&b C690 loudspeakers. Conceived as a seven-point in-line surround system, the train effects – a major part of the show – are delivered by d&b Q-series enclosures, with a pair of Q7s at each end, and five pairs of Q10s spaced between them above the track. For the latter application, the Q10 was really the only option, as we needed a speaker with a sufficiently wide dispersion angle – everyone in the audience needs to hear every loudspeaker for the surround effects to be totally convincing.

‘This project’s real challenge, apart from the practical difficulties of the load-in and build, was to ensure as consistent a result as possible for the audience, irrespective of seat position. The key to this was careful programming of the DME64, across the eight different feeds and the 16 channels of QLab. Initial programming took around one day, at Orbital’s premises prior to shipping, followed by around four or five days on site before the technicals started, with some further fine-tuning during the techs. When we had it all working pretty much as expected, we learnt that air-conditioning was to be installed. This was going to be good news for the audience, but the air-con’s main delivery duct needed to hang right in front of our delay speakers! We didn’t have to move them very much, but it had a big impact on the delay times, making a surprising difference to the sound. Fortunately, all was fine again once we’d re-adjusted the times to suit! Overall, it’s been a tremendous achievement by all the creative team, to build a theatre from scratch in such a difficult environment, equip it to the highest standards, and deliver such a quality result to the audience.’

‘One of the principal characters, who is on stage pretty much throughout the show, was tending to sweat-out their mic capsules very rapidly,’ says Luke Freeborough, Number One sound operator on the show. ‘Their role is energetic, involving much jumping and running about, with sweat therefore being an inevitable issue. We needed a solution to help address this nightly problem, and decided to give the Da-Cappo design a try. In our experience so far, the Da-Cappo capsule is providing an excellent balance between audio performance and resilience – they keep working well, even when wet, with just a small EQ adjustment helping to maximise the time before any attention is required. If they get too wet, they can be simply shaken dry.’

More: www.orbitalsound.com

More: www.da-cappo.com

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