Unusual breathes new least of life into flying system at the Victoria Palace Theatre for smash hit Hamilton

25th April 2018

The smash hit musical, Hamilton opened at the end of December to sell out audiences at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. Prior to its opening, the venue underwent a complete facelift to prepare for the show, with everything from the decor, the seats and the uniforms of the staff tying in with Hamilton. As part of the refurbishment, Unusual Rigging was brought on board to rejuvenate the theatre's 'tired' flying system as well as to provide rigging services for the show itself.

Jeremy Featherstone, Unusual explained: "The flying system at the Victoria Palace Theatre had become life expired due to many years of use. For Hamilton, Unusual was asked to refurbish fifteen counterweight sets that were needed for the show. Essentially, all the moving parts and ropes were replaced during the pre-rig period and the opportunity was taken to lengthen some of the cradles to increase their capacity to balance some of the heavier lighting bars."

With the venue shut, rehearsals for the show had to take place off site. Chris Boone, production manager for the show said: "We did an out of theatre set up with pre-rig at Set Up Scenery in Cambridge. With Unusual providing over 30 motors, we test built the whole site there."

A major part of the installation within the theatre focussed around the lighting rig, with eight counterweight flown LX bars and an integrated LX truss and catwalk system which hangs over the stage. This catwalk system weighed in at around 9000kg when fully loaded and this weight was spread over 18 points. Jeremy continued: "Nothing on Hamilton is run-of-the-mill and this is no exception as it has to locate very slightly off-centre to work with the set. So it is never a case of coming up with one solution and copying it 18 times. Every point has to be considered individually and also the collective effect of the loads on the rigging and the grid had to be taken into consideration. We did this using a combination of aluminium spreader trusses, traditional rigging and custom bracketry to transfer these loads back to the building structure."

Unusual was also asked to come up with a slim-line solution to the problem of lighting and sound trusses potentially obscuring the view of a lovingly restored auditorium. This was designed, fabricated and tested at Unusual's Bugbrooke facility during the pre-production period. However, as the production progressed, the need for extra capacity on this advance truss structure became apparent and so a revised solution was required combining proprietary truss and custom made support brackets. 

Jeremy continued: "Over a single night, the front of house system in its entirety was carefully surveyed then de-rigged and re-hung, ensuring every single speaker and light was returned to exactly the same position albeit supported from a new structure."

Chris added: "This was an extremely stressful period with putting together a building site and a brand new, very high profile production – the first production of the show outside of America. From start to finish, the whole team at Unusual was a real asset."

Another aspect of the show that Unusual assisted with, was to install low voltage chain hoists in the wings to fly the candle carts. These were mounted on motor-upstands above the fly floor to maximise flying height so the pieces could be 'double-stacked' to take up less space.

Chris explained: Chris explained: "In spite of this, the Victoria Palace is still a challenging venue, space wise. The current grid and roof structure mostly dates from the building of the theatre, with the usual modifications and reinforcements over the years to cope with increasingly large, heavy and complicated shows”. 

Gavin Millar, Technical Manager for Delfont Mackintosh Theatres added ‘When Hamilton ends, we will take out the old grid and old back wall which will make the theatre 4 metres higher and six metres deeper which is great for future productions."

Jeremy concluded: "A new structure is already under construction which will give the theatre a modern fly tower, increasing the flying height, weight capacity and depth to accommodate larger shows. This will make a huge difference to fit-ups and greatly reduce the need for diverting counterweight sets and installing costly and time consuming secondary structures to pick up heavy items of scenery. Watch this space!"

Click for larger view