Unusual Rigging’s work on the Wizard of Oz wasn’t just unusually big, it was also unusually heavy. The show uses two scissor lifts in the basement, which weigh in at four tons each, while the steelwork which was installed in the basement to support the set weighs an incredible 20 tonnes.
“We went in to the theatre to begin the three week fit-out, installing the mother truss with 40 chain hoists and tracking beams to help get the steelwork into the basement,” explains project manager Simon Stone. “But the Royal Variety Show took place half way through, so the production crew for that came in and took possession, laying their show floor over ours for the duration.”
The chain hoists and 300ft of truss above the stage enable the set to be flown in and out of place. But, in a theatre as old as the London Palladium, none of the counterweight sets were heavy enough. There also weren’t enough of them; and the ones there were often in the wrong place. So Unusual installed two permanent additional counterweight sets and a network of diversion pulleys so that set pieces could be flown from different points.
“We also extended the existing cradles, adding 500kg to each of the counterweight sets and enabling significantly heavier set to be flown,” says Stone. “Several set pieces were hung from each so that we could accommodate everything that was required by the designers. In order to move each of the hanging points, we ended up with a maze of steel cable in the grid area; there was very little head space before, and even less now!
“There are two follow spot positions each side of the stage, which we were asked to construct, along with a ‘diving board’ to access the performer flying truss.
“Storage for set pieces is always a challenge in theatres, especially at the Palladium where there isn’t much space in the wings. So stage manager Jo Miles came up with an ingenious solution: to create steel cages in the wings, in which props can be stored. During the interval, stage hands take the new props and replace them with those which are no longer needed, ready for the second half. And the cages are attached to chain hoists, so they can be raised up, out of the way, when not required.”
Stage engineering was provided by Stage Electrics. The show, which is produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bill Kenwright, opened at the London Palladium earlier this month.