Unusual Rigging plays fairy godmother to get Cinderella show-ready!

14th April 2021

When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella opens later this year, it is set to completely reinvent the world’s best-loved fairy-tale. Scheduled for Summer 2021, it features a brand new score by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Oscar-nominated David Zippel, with a script from Killing Eve’s Emerald Fennell, recently multi-Oscar nominated for Promising Young Woman.

But before Cinderella can go to the ball, the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London’s West End needs to be transformed to host the spectacular production. And, with Cinderella’s fairy godmother currently shielding due to COVID restrictions, Unusual Rigging was called upon to work its magic instead.

Jeremy Featherstone, design engineer, Unusual Rigging explained: “Unusual was brought on board by production manager Paul Hennessy to provide all the rigging for the new show. This involved modifying the flying system that’s already there, adding an additional 60 drop pulleys onto the grid in order to fit in all the portals and big set pieces, as well as installing 2 x false prosceniums and a big back wall weighing 10 tonnes.”

The back wall, a timber construction had to be hung before the floor went in underneath. Jeremy continued: “We put in a 70 ft runway beam system to construct the wall. It all had to come up in a lift (in 50+ pieces) then tracked across the stage and fitted together. In total we installed over half a kilometre of truss and ladder beam – over two thirds more than we’d normally install for a typical show in another West End Theatre. However, the Gillian Lynne is not a typical theatre and everything that’s a part of the house system is either too wide or too narrow for this show. And with each show that’s played at the venue wanting something a little different each time, the theatre has never really returned to its standard format since Cats loaded out in 2002.”

In a first for Unusual, the team also took on responsibility for fitting the counterweight assist winches. These were mounted to the wall frame side of the flying system, enabling key items of flown scenery to be automated in time with the music etc. Automated flying elements can be controlled by laptop, which in the current climate of social distancing, is of huge benefit.

As with most shows, several aspects changed during production. With site visits kept to a minimum, Jeremy says the team was grateful for its extensive knowledge of the venue. “We are extremely fortunate to know most of London’s theatres like the back of our hand. Prior to the first lockdown, we had been in at the Gillian Lynne, reinstating the theatre after the curtain went down on the last show. So, we knew what we were going into and we knew that certain aspects hadn’t been finalised. We were also in a strange position of having a warehouse full of kit which is normally in use on productions nationwide, but because of COVID was sitting idly at our Northampton base. Therefore, we were able to have a more flexible set of kit on site than we usually would in “normal times and as such, we didn’t require any further trucks to be sent down with the equipment. This meant we could complete our work to time and make any on the spot changes that might have been requested by the other teams working on getting the show up and running.”

While the pandemic has thrown a massive curveball at Cinderella, Jeremy points out that all the on-site work was done in an extremely COVID-secure way. “There was a very strict regime in place. We were all tested twice a week before being allowed into our cohort. Each trade and company formed its own bubble with the front of house being turned into separate little enclaves – welfare areas where we were able to take breaks, remove our masks etc. The theatre has also employed Chris Luscombe to oversee COVID security and the entire time on site we felt extremely safe.”

He concluded: “As we welcome the government’s route out of lockdown with cautious optimism, the key point that we as a company are stressing is that if you wait for the green light from the prime-minister, you’ll be leaving it too late. We know that when our industry is allowed to open, hotels will be able to turn on the lights and start trading, nightclubs will need to turn on the music and cinemas can throw open their doors. But for live theatre, it’s not that simple. Loading in a show, finding a new cast – especially if you have a show with child actors, can take a good month or more. We don’t want to see the opening of theatres delayed a day more than necessary, so our advice is to get the groundwork done now.”

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