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National Theatre Blog

Help us save stage lighting

An image of War Horse

Lighting design is a vital part of every performance at the NT. Proposed EU regulations may mean that we can’t light our shows anymore.

  • Proposed EU regulations will impose a minimum efficiency for all light sources – including stage lighting – from September 2020. These regulations are 85 lumens per watt and a maximum standby power of 0.5W.
  • Unfortunately, most stage lighting equipment fails to meet these guidelines – including tungsten fixtures and even the latest LED fixtures.
  • Theatres will still be able to use equipment in 2020, but new stock and essential components such as compatible bulbs will no longer be able to be supplied in the EU, quickly rendering existing equipment obsolete.
  • Up until now, EU law has exempted stage lighting from these regulations because this directive is mainly designed regulate domestic or industrial lighting with the aim of meeting the environmental targets set in the Paris Climate Accord.


While we are fully committed to improving sustainability in our industry, imposing these blunt measures on stage lighting will have a catastrophic artistic and financial effect on theatres all over the UK and throughout the EU.

Productions like War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Follies, and Angels in America could not be lit under these regulations.

  • There is no existing equipment that could create any of the images you are familiar with from these productions that would be allowed under EU legislation.
  • Lighting designers already increasingly use a mixed palette of LED lights and tungsten lights, conscious of balancing energy efficiency and artistic quality. Almost all of this equipment, including the LED equipment, would not pass the new rules.
  • Stage lighting manufacturers and engineers say that there is no possibility of overcoming these challenges by 2020, due to the practical limits of physics, optics and LED efficiency in the design of these lighting fixtures.


Even if viable replacements existed, this would still mean that theatres across the country would soon need to replace the vast majority existing lamps, dimming and control infrastructure. Initial projections estimate this cost at over £1.25bn.

  • This presents significant financial challenges to all theatres in the UK and the EU, and is potentially ruinous to small venues and theatres.
  • The prospect of having to replace long-serving equipment in schools, fringe and amateur venues, church halls and community centres which has suddenly become obsolete is financially unrealistic.
  • Existing productions would ultimately have to be remade to remove artistic lighting – light would no longer play a storytelling role. This includes productions we take on tour like War Horse, and long running productions in the West End.



We have been working to reduce the environmental impact of the NT for a number of years – we achieved a 20% reduction in our carbon footprint through NT Future, and we are aiming to make a further 20% reduction by 2021. However, scrapping existing stage lighting equipment isn’t an effective way to do this.

  • Any power savings that could be achieved will likely be far outweighed by the scrap created and the energy required to manufacture and distribute new fixtures.
  • In 2014, a study for the Mayor of London showed that on average, performance lighting accounted for less than 5% of a theatre’s total power consumption. By contrast, around 70% of the power used by the average theatre is for heating and air conditioning.
  • This is because stage lights are on for just a few hours a day (during performance), never all the lights on at the same time, and rarely at full power. If all the lights in a rig were on constantly at full power during a performance, we would see much heavier power consumption; however, an average performance only calls upon around 16% of that potential power.

How can you help?

We need the EU to recognise the need for continued exemption for stage and entertainment lighting under their proposed regulations for the Eco-Design Working Plan 2016-2019.

1.    Raise awareness on social media using #savestagelighting

2.    Read about the legislation in more detail at

3.    Write to your MP and or MEP to raise their awareness of this issue. The Association of Lighting Designers has created a sample letter available here.