Pool has been involved in theatre sound for over 40 years and has worked across the entire scale of theatrical activity, from productions in the West End and on Broadway, to regional, fringe and community companies. He was recommended as the sound designer for Witness for the Prosecution by the play’s director Lucy Bailey, with whom he has worked on six previous productions.
“Witness for the Prosecution is presented by Rebecca Stafford and Eleanor LLoyd. Stafford previously staged a different production in council chambers in Leeds and York,” Pool explains. “Stafford found the County Hall venue when she was looking for somewhere suitable for a London run. She joined forces with LLoyd, and together they developed and co-produced this production.”
With its 50-foot high marbled walls, the debating chamber at County Hall is visually magnificent, but this has resulted in an acoustic entirely unsuited to speech; as far back as 1922 there were letters and articles in the press bemoaning the poor audibility of debates.
“We resolved to correct this, and our aim was to design a system that would allow every word to be heard,” Pool says. “We also wanted to enhance the audience experience and create the impression of a great acoustic to match the thrilling visual setting.”
The principal challenge was to drastically increase the ratio of direct to reverberant sound. Pool tackled this by designing a system that uses over 120 loudspeakers.
“That equates to one speaker, no further than a metre away, for every three audience members, which had to be installed without making any alterations to the Grade II listed fabric and fittings of the building,” he says. “It was a very difficult and time-consuming job for our installation team led by Production Sound Engineer Aidan Jones.”
Because the loudspeakers are close to the audience, the performance of the microphones is exposed in almost microscopic detail. “We set up a small area of audience seating with loudspeakers and associated processing and brought in two of the cast to experiment with many models of microphones as a test prior to putting the final spec out for quotation,” says Pool. “I had previously used d:dicate d:dicate™ 2011C
s as float microphones for the vocal reinforcement of The 39 Steps on Broadway and had achieved great results. For this reason, I included them in our testing ‘shoot out’. We were selecting for transparency and speech intelligibility and on that basis the 2011Cs were clearly superior to other tested models and were far more forgiving in off-axis use. An additional advantage was that they were visually extremely neutral, so much so that we decided to use them 'as is' rather than attempting to disguise them as the actual period microphones that would have been in use in court rooms in 1952 when our play is set.”