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Unusual gives Shrek a lift

Ian McMurray 14 June 2011
Unusual gives Shrek a lift

Unusual Rigging has completed work at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London for the musical production of Shrek. Work included hanging over three tons of speakers on the front of house truss, and around 18 tons of set.

“The most interesting and challenging part of the project from our point of view was working out how to hang so many pieces of set, including over 40 cloths, with so little weight in the house counterweight sets,” said Simon Stone, project manager for Unusual Rigging. “The theatre has an extremely old counterweight system which can only take up to 125kg in each cradle; an Unusual Ladderbeam on its own weighs that much, so we knew we had a lot of work to do.”

“For the three flown pieces that weigh over 1,400kg each, we replaced the theatre counterweight cradles with Unusual’s, each of which can take up to 1.5 tons,” he continued. “But the budget wouldn’t have stretched to replacing as many counterweight sets as needed for the show. So instead, we took advantage of the fact that the theatre has 125 counterweight sets, split between both sides of the stage: so every flown piece has two steel wire ropes from a stage left cradle and two steel wire ropes from a stage right cradle, to give us enough cradle capacity. This way, each piece of set is actually countered on both sides of the stage – when you pull a counterweight rope on stage left, there is a second cradle flying on stage right.”

In fact, added Unusual’s design engineer Jeremy Featherstone, there were several occasions where they had to connect several cradles, in order to triple or quadruple their normal capacity. “The set weighed around 18 tons in total – the heaviest piece of set was the sun LED effect, which weighed in at a little under two tons,” he said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as re-reeving the counterweight sets: and the existing cables needed to be replaced with thicker, steel cable, which meant that we needed to fit new head blocks for this piece.”

Across the theatre, Unusual had to use some five tons – 600m – of ladder beam and put in six of their own cradles to add to the 80 house cradles.

Unusual were also asked to hang one of the heaviest theatre speaker systems they have ever encountered – a three ton speaker stack from the main front of house truss, above the stage. “We put in additional steelwork in the front of house void,” said Stone, “and hung the truss on eight one ton hoists, instead of the usual three. We also needed to fit four spreader beams, because the speaker stack needed to be mounted between two sets of points.”

For part of the show, a computer-controlled dragon flies through the audience. Although the automation for the dragon was supplied by another company, Scott Fisher, Unusual was called on to fabricate all the bracing and trussing.

“We took two weeks in the theatre getting the flying system ready,” continued Stone. “Essentially, we put a complete new flying system in – we ended up not using any of their house systems. This included putting in steelwork in the roof area, so that all the weight is taken on our steelwork, giving us more flexibility to move up and down stage. We used six riggers for the first two weeks, then four for the next two weeks.”

First night is on 20th June, and the show is already in preview.

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