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GDS ArcLamp lights way forward at Savoy Theatre

The Savoy Theatre in London, the first public building in the world to be entirely illuminated by electric light, boasts the first installation of GDS ArcLamp.

In 1881 The Savoy Theatre on the Strand in London’s West End opened its doors for the first time. At the time it was regarded as the most beautifully fitted theatre in Europe, and was also the first public building in the world to be entirely illuminated by electric light.

Built by Richard D’Oyly Carte to showcase the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, across the years the theatre has hosted a plethora of highly prestigious productions. From performances by The RSC and English National Ballet to plays by Coward and Stoppard, The Savoy’s illustrious roll-call goes on and on. The D’Oyly Carte company keeps the Gilbert and Sullivan connection alive and currently the smash hit musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels plays to full houses.

In common with many theatres of its age and type, The Savoy recently embarked upon a programme of works to address its environmental impact, while at the same time improving its customer experience. It should come as no surprise, given its status in history, that The Savoy chose a pioneering way ahead.

The theatre wished to replace its existing house-light system, which comprised traditional 40-60W tungsten candle-lamps and cold cathode tubing, with an energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly system. The new system was to be retrofitted with no impact on the fabric of this historic site. Given the spectacular nature of the interior, the installation was to replicate as closely as possible the way in which the auditorium had traditionally been lit, in order that the detailed architectural features could be seen to best advantage.

The original requirement was for a wireless system throughout and to this end the management at the Savoy invited GDS in conjunction with installers White Light to consult over the best way forward. A further specific requirement of the project was that the house lights should be controllable from the stage door area as well as from the auditorium, for the convenience of staff closing the theatre at the end of a working day.

In order to exactly satisfy the demands of the brief, GDS released its brand new ArcLamp product. These are 4.8W LED candle-lamps in both clear and frosted types. The existing 40-60W tungsten candle lamps were replaced by equivalent ArcLamp fittings and the cold cathode tubing (around, for example, the ceiling edges) was replaced by LED strip (19.2W/metre). ArcLamp is the latest addition to the ArcSystem range and allows dimming of the lighting on the circle fronts, for example – not possible with mains LED options.

In total, a combination of 269 clear and frosted ArcLamp fittings were installed at the Savoy, wirelessly driven by 52 D4 drivers via two transmitters, controlled from three eight-button panels. The requirement that the system could also be controlled from the stage door area presented a different challenge. The great distance from the auditorium to the stage door prevented the use of a wireless signal and so GDS modified one of the eight-button panels to run as wired rather than wireless from this location.

The theatre now benefits from a 90% energy saving. “To our knowledge ArcLamp is the world’s first low voltage candle-lamp which dims from one hundred to zero absolutely smoothly,” says Matt Lloyd, managing director at GDS. “Fundamentally, up to this point that was simply not possible and that’s what makes this development such an exciting achievement. ArcLamp completes the whole ArcSystem picture for us and opens up a world of possibilities. The results at the Savoy Theatre speak for themselves and it is fitting that our latest innovation should find a home in a venue of such historical magnitude.”