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What the hell is a Candleician?

Shakespeare's Globe may have the only job in the UK dedicated solely to looking after candles, we find out more about Tony Forrester, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse's Candle Technician

Tony Forrester the Candleician at Shakespeare's Globe

So, you're a Candle Technician…

Most people in the building call me The Candleician.

OK, so we will too. Do you think this is the only role of its kind in the UK?

I think it's safe to say that. I am sure somebody would have got in touch with me if there was another role like it to start a Candle Technician union. I did come across a candlelit space in Croatia, when I was visiting on holiday so that was the only other one that I've seen so far.

Did you get quite excited when you saw it?
Unfortunately it was closed at the time, but you do find yourself comparing the kind of candle they use to the kind of candles that we use. Which is maybe a little geeky.

What makes you qualified to be a Candleician?
The Sam Wanamker Playhouse is the only candle-lit space in the UK, so my skills needed to be more about being able to work in a small producing theatre, and that was my background. I had worked around London in similar sized venues, just obviously ones that weren't candle lit. I didn't need any prior candle knowledge.

What are your daily duties?
It does vary day to day. I am the main Candleician, and I've got a deputy as well so there are two of us. In the morning we have to come in to clean as much as we can. We have a wooden stage floor so we have to make sure that's all been scraped clean because we get quite a lot of candle wax dripping onto the stage. We have to make sure the chandeliers and the handheld candles are all prepped and ready to go. During the technical rehearsal I will be out front, watching the stage, making sure that nobody is setting themselves on fire and I try to make sure everything we do has been thoroughly planned out. There's also always one of us watching the shows too.

The Little Matchgirl is on at the moment, do they use a typical amount of candles?
Actually, this show has at least 120 candles, which I think is more than any other show before it. The first thing that Emma Rice and the lighting designer said to me was that they wanted to go candle-max on the show. It looks really beautiful.

The show uses puppets, does that add another tricky dimension?
We've not done a show with puppets before and one of the things that there's been a big concern about is getting the light down at the lower level for the puppets. We've created some new candle trays and we've had little lights at the front of the stage to help boost the light at the lower level for the puppets. We have six chandeliers and they are operated from backstage and there are some really beautiful scenes in The Little Matchgirl where they bring the chandeliers to a really low level and the puppets wind in and out of the them.

How long does it take you to light all the candles before a show?
Not, that long, about ten minutes. We use tapers to light them and most of the candles do last for the duration of the show. One or two don't manage to – due to the air handling system we have in there – and occasionally actors come offstage with candle wax dripping all over their hands.

Edie Edmindson (puppeteer) as The Little Matchgirl
© Steve Tanner

What about the ones that haven't been used up during the show?
We use a fresh set of candles at the beginning of every show and at the end the ones left over get sent to our candlemakers Moorlands Candles to be melted down and remade. The ones that are still long enough to be used again we use during the tech rehearsals.

Do they have special non-melting materials in the candles?
They are 100 per cent pure Beeswax, which is what we found to be the ones with the best burn time. Usually our candlemakers send us English beeswax but we have massively increased their output so sometimes they've had to import the candles from China because the UK bees can't keep up. The beeswax candles smell nice and look the nicest too.

What's the worst candle-related mishap that you've had to deal with?
There has been a couple. Probably the worst was in a tech rehearsal where a stage manager stepped a little too far back into one of the candles and his hair caught alight. But I was on hand and he had a thick head of hair so he was OK. It's usually the stage managers because they are so busy thinking of everyone else.

Do you get regular hand burns?
I've had some mild burns, but it's more the callouses. You have to put the candles in the chandelier and you want to make sure they are in properly because you don't want them to fall out mid show so you wouldn't believe how calloused your hands get.

The Little Matchgirl (And Other Happier Tales) runs at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre until 22 January.

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