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.


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Judy Mansfield
7 years ago

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

7 years ago

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… Read more »

gloria mundi
7 years ago

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….

Jennifer Uzzell
7 years ago

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