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Remote-dimmable storm lanterns


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Given the extremely high standard of props featured in this topic I feel slightly cheeky in showing off my own latest creation. However, not only did it get good comments from audiences, two of the cast have asked me to make some for them!


At the beginning of the millenium Alan Ayckbourn wrote Snake In The Grass which features, right at the start of the night-time garden scene in Act 2, two practical storm lanterns. A note in the script states that "...these will provide the main sources of light for the remainder of the scene". Their behaviour is fundamental to the plot and must come on stage lit, remain lit for around half-an-hour, then independently dim and extinguish as though running out of oil - exactly on cue!


I have no idea how this was intended to be achieved in a realistic fashion, and I spent many hours researching to see how other companies managed it - without coming to a satisfactory (to me) conclusion - I began to regret my offering to take this on! However, I did take note of various negative comments relating to the use of radio and infra red controllers and so decided to go the hard-wired route.


The two lamps were practically identical - slight differences in #2 arose from trial and error building #1. Each was constructed using stuff I happened to have lying around at the time: Grolsch beer glass, cassoulet and tuna fish tins, wire coat hangers, plus odds and ends of plumbing materials. I bought in a rocker switch, a microswitch, a 12V 10W automotive lamp, and a 12V 1.2Ah sealed lead-acid battery to power it while being carried on. There are some photographs at:



Each lantern has annular electrodes in the base so that it doesn't matter in which orientation the actor puts them down. A sleeved machine screw passing through the lantern's base operates the microswitch such that power to the lantern is switched seamlessly from its battery to the remote supply in the Control Room. This also prevents the battery voltage from appearing across the base electrodes, which would have made life interesting if placed on a metal surface. The final finish is silver-grey Hammerite paint which is scraped off in places on the copper piping so as to simulate rust (not that the audience could see that, but it felt right).


Two independently controlled variable 12V sources (a retired train controller) in the Control Room had to be matched to the lantern batteries just prior to curtain up each night so that there was no visible change in the level of illumination as they were put down. The batteries were recharged every day.


After initial trials I added the top edge of a plastic flower pot to the base to assist in locating the lantern in the near-dark conditions. After the first run through we realised that the 10 watt lamp was too bright in the very dark, moonlit scene, as it tended to cause the viewer's iris to close, rendering the dark scene a near blackout. A change to a 5W alternative and the addition of a little straw gel produced the desired result.


I have to confess that although the lanterns performed beautifully I was extremely relieved when the show closed! (But it is truly satisfying when a plan works :-)


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