Unusual Rigging delivers 'world class' rehearsal spaces at ENB's new City Island home

1st January 2020

The prestigious English National Ballet moved to its new east London headquarters in September 2019 ahead of its 70th anniversary season. The complex on London's City Island has seven full size studios and a five storey production studio fitted with a fly tower to rehearse productions with full set and lighting. The project has seen Unusual Rigging take on the roles of theatre consultant, designers and installers of the technical equipment required by ENB.
George Thomson, technical director, ENB explained: "The need for this new building was well overdue. The company of over 70 dancers were housed in very cramped and unsuitable accommodation in Kensington. In short, our old building was not purpose built, nor really fit for the purpose of supporting a large scale, modern, world class ballet company. The new building offers many excellent facilities which are vital to the company's growth."
The project was led by Unusual's head of capital projects, Mark Priestley. "It's very rare that time is on our side. So many of Unusual's projects see us brought in at the 11th hour to perform some sort of last ditch rescue missions that this is how we're used to working – quickly, efficiently and under immense pressure. So it was certainly refreshing to work with ENB on a project that has been in the pipeline for the last four years and which has seen us break new ground."
He continued: "What you'd normally see is a third party consultant employed in the same way as you'd employ a structural engineer. The standard process would see the theatre consultant produce a design intent – a dream theatre if you like. However what's proposed in that design intent isn't always easy to realise in the particular building they're planning for."
Unusual Rigging was employed first and foremost to consult on ENB's new home. The technical fit out was then tendered with Unusual awarded the tender by BW Workplace Experts. "The huge advantage of this," commented Mark, "is that we have been able to ensure continuity and that the vision for the project carried through from the shell and core stage was compatible with the aims and needs of the ENB when in so many projects key architectural and structural requirements are 'missed' at the S&C stage and are impossible or very costly to add back at 'fit-out' stage. This often does not happen when there is a design responsibility change somewhere during the process due to the traditional design team/ contractor contractual split."
Unusual always places great emphasis on listening to the client and encouraging them to consider what a permanent creative space would require, both in terms of facility but also organisational change. George commented: "What we have, as a result of this is a production studio at the heart of the building offering us, and others the opportunity to build, test, light and rehearse full size production in preparation for touring. The space is essentially a fully functioning large scale theatre, without an auditorium."
The space is fitted out with a full counterweight flying comprising of 70 sets. The grid is fitted with rolling beams from which chain hoists can be suspended. There is provision to rig 'front of house' lighting, projection and sound positions to allow for the accurate creation of any production prior to getting into a theatre or going on tour. "It really is a unique space," said George.
He concluded: "Mark Priestley and Unusual have done an amazing job in interpreting the company’s requirements for this space. Mark has been a first class consultant on this project both in listening to and delivering on all of our requirements for the space. Mark also brought a large number of  excellent, creative ideas to the table which have enhanced the project enormously. Mark and Unusual have many years of experience in dealing with large scale theatre based projects and this shows in the quality of both design and finishes to our production Studio and London City Island. . They are a world class company with skillful, experienced and dedicated employees. We could not fault their workmanship and professionalism at any level -from design concept to the actual delivery on site."

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