Lighten our darkness

Charles Cowling


Last Friday I met the theatre lighting designer who’s interested in helping undertakers light their chapels of rest more effectively. I shall call him Wayne, for that is his name. 20 years in a senior position with the Royal Shakespeare Company and now freelancing in Europe and beyond. Our venue was the chapel of rest at Hemming and Peace, Alcester. Thank you, Nigel Peace, for your indulgence and hospitality.

Wayne had not visited a chapel of rest before and was expecting something much bigger — even though the chapel we saw is twice the size of most. He took everything in, photographed it and then we adjourned to a coffee shop to chat some more. We talked about how it is possible to use light positively rather than negatively — to create an experience based in light rather than gloom. We talked about mood and how lights can achieve that. Bread and butter for a theatre lighting expert, of course. I asked Wayne what mood he thought would be appropriate in most cases and he said spiritual. We talked about personalising the experience according to the variable expectations of bereaved people and the age of the person who’s died. Some families are likely to prefer a simple scheme, others something more elaborate and, if you like, Disneyfied, with images projected onto the wall (a symbol, a photo of the person who’s died) and a more florid use of colour.

It’s all perfectly doable and, once the lights are in place, not at all difficult for an undertaker to create an appropriate lighting design. The opportunities are extremely exciting. Wayne knows that most undertakers don’t have a lot of money to spare and he’s gone away to price up equipment. If he can come up with something affordable, our next stop will be the chapel of a leading undertaker who has expressed a strong interest.

We’ll keep you posted.


7 thoughts on “Lighten our darkness

  1. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    Thanks, Judy. Milton Keynes well worth knowing about — and well done them for making the effort.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Judy Mansfield

    I was very impressed by the lighting in place at Crownhill Crematorium in Milton Keynes. The whole place has been very well thought out; and the choice of natural lighting (and windows onto either a Japanese garden or landscaped gardens) or to have the ceiling bathed in coloured light really does add to the atmosphere. Would love to see what the RSC man comes up with

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Good sound systems in crems? It’ll never happen. Not whilst they are creaming off all possible profits to support other departments of local councils. But the idea of looking at lighting is so very interesting Charles. And an RSC top jolly – well why wouldn’t you….although I am having difficulty accepting that someone who has been working for 20 years plus is named Wayne….such a ‘modern’ name from where I’m sitting (in my home for the bewildered). They’ll have professors and judges called Wayne next!!

    Chapels of rest tend to be low lit and rather creepy places….at least the ones I’ve been in. How lovely to have a well lit room in which to spend time with your dead one.

    There are many dingy old Victorian crems which could do with a bit of Wayne’s creative lighting however – but for me, natural light is always the best…and the best décor is a sky/trees/gardens/hills every time.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    Interesting you say crems, GM. Wayne says that a lot of business in America is coming from the new super-churches where they go the whole hog sensuously. We’ll never have those here, of course, but yes, crems. Which sort of gets one thinking about how much better the user experience of crems could be in so many ways. A decent sound system, for example…

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    gloria mundi

    I’m with Jenny on this. Charles. Lighting is a powerful element of what is perhaps trivially called “mood enhancement;” put another way, it can be a powerful ritual element, and we are striving to develop rituals for our age. If you and Wayne can develop lighting set-ups that enhance deep thought and feeling – “spiritual” lighting – then the experience of a family visiting a body is likely to be made much more valuable. And as for finding an ex-senior lighting man from the RSC – nothing like going in at the top!

    That just leaves the crems….

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    Sweet of you, Jennifer. I wondered if I might be going a little over the top but your endorsement, from an instinctive pinky-lavender undertaker at that, fortifies and encourages me!

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    Jennifer Uzzell

    Finding this fascinating, Charles! Do keep us up to date!

    Charles Cowling

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