Time and Place

Posted on March 2, 2021
Martin Dudley Recalls Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa.

The owner of Reading, UK-based Martin’s Lights has acquired a trove of memories in 30 years of touring as a lighting designer and director. Over 50 countries on five continents have been stamped on his passport. Still when asked about his most memorable venue, his answer was clear: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

Anyone who’s ever visited this 528 hectares (1,300 acres) gem outside Cape Town will find it easy to understand why. Nestled at the foot of the Table Mountains, the botanical garden gives way to wide open pastures and is crisscrossed by winding paths that invite visitors to lose themselves among the 7,000 native South African plant species that flourish here.

Dudley who lists a number of stars among his clients first visited this site in January 2019 for an outdoor show. He shared his memories with us, and explained why he’ll be eager to return anytime a client invites him!

What was the first thing that came to your mind when you saw the botanical gardens for the first time?
“As a huge fan of nature, my first thought was to get my programming done as soon as possible so that I could go exploring!”

Beyond the natural attractions, were there any other features of the venue that stood out?
“The main thing is the incredible beauty of the setting. But, the catering was pretty good too. I think I went back for ice cream three times.”

Given its aesthetic beauty, did working at the gardens influence your overall approach to design?
“Not really. I’ve been James’ lighting director since 2012 and we were between lighting designs on this trip, so I was entrusted make it look as good as possible while his designer Cate Carter of Bryte Design was working on the designs for his new album touring cycle that started soon afterwards. Also, James was playing a whole load of new songs I’d only heard for the first time in rehearsal a few days before we went to South Africa.”

As much as you like this venue, did it present any special challenges from a design perspective?
“Not particularly – although getting our backdrop to hang as flat as possible on a curved truss was fiddly. I also had to keep a regular eye out for the cobra snake which apparently lived in the bushes just behind front of house.”

Do the rich images of the garden ever appear in your dreams?
“Right now, with COVID, I’m dreaming about visiting ANY venue!”

Which artist past or present do you think would be most ideal for the stage at the botanical gardens?
“Any artist that has a good rapport with their audience would be ideal for this venue – how could you fail to connect with people who’ve come to see you in such a beautiful setting on a warm evening? I thought James did a pretty good job that night.”