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Unusual Rigging and Miss Saigon make spectacular return to the West End

Unusual Rigging and Miss Saigon make spectacular return to the West End

UK - Unusual Rigging has become renowned in the West End for taking charge of marking out, setting out and preparing the grids for some of the most famous musicals of all time. So it was not too much of a surprise when, 25 years after an Unusual team worked on the original production of Miss Saigon, the company was brought on board for the latest run of the show at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Jeremy Featherstone, design engineer at Unusual Rigging, said: "I was exactly 15 years and one month old when the show opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in September 1989, but an older generation of Unusual riggers were heavily involved in all areas of the production, with the massive statue of "Ho Chi Min" causing problems, as he weighed about five tonnes and had to be stored from a winch upstage centre. This time the key effects and scenic items are based on a touring version of the show, so the pieces are perhaps less weighty but nonetheless a challenge to accomplish in these old West End theatres."

Unusual’s formal relationship with Cameron Mackintosh goes back to the first production of Cats in 1981 and the two companies have continued to work closely since. Simon Stone, Unusual’s crew chief, explained: "Although we have a professional relationship, we also like to think we are working for friends and as very much part of a larger team. We understand them and they understand and appreciate what we do and how we go about achieving it. On this occasion, we were required to prepare the grid so that the counterweight flown and motorised elements of the show could come in and fly on time."

This was no mean feat given the tight production schedule, so typical of a West End musical where time is very much at a premium. While not the most technically difficult show Unusual has installed, Simon explained: "Each new show always throws up a set of challenges and it is our ability to adapt to changes very close to – and often during – get-ins which simply puts us streets ahead of anyone else."

The main challenge Simon refers to was lifting large pieces of set, and the associated machinery which brings them to life, into the building in the small hours of the morning, in order to cause as little disruption as possible to the busy street outside. Unusual Rigging’s experience of lifting heavy and awkward pieces of kit into confined spaces comes into its own in such buildings. This time the team managed to achieve it through a combination of hoists, runway beams and bridles, so that pieces of equipment up to 2 tonnes in weight could be moved from the door to the middle of the stage and positioned with complete accuracy.

As always, Unusual’s equipment is most conspicuous by the fact that the audience never see it. Jeremy concluded: "Pretty much nothing that happens on the show could happen without our input somewhere along the line, but the magic is created through ensuring that all our hard work is almost always hidden from view."

photo: Michael Le Poer Trench

4th July 2014

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