When London’s Adelphi Theatre re-opens later this year, it will do so with a brand new flying system. The refurbishment – stage one of three has involved a complete replacement of the fly tower hemp sets and a new front loading 42 set double purchase counterweight system.
With all theatres across the country having spent the last twelve months in the dark, LW Theatres and Nederlander who jointly own the Adelphi, has taken the unprecedented circumstances as an opportunity to carry out a programme of work across several of its venues. And with no shows or audiences, this has allowed for refurbishment to take place uninterrupted so that once theatres can open their doors, they can do so freely and start recouping lost revenue immediately.
Martin Skelton, technical and building services manager at The Adelphi said: “Phase one has seen the Unusual team come in to initially remove the old system, make good the structure of the wall behind and put in a new, easier to use structure and flying system in the same position. The old system had evolved over time with half of it being one shape and design and in amongst it were some other cradles, three different types of flying weight, two different styles of loading, a huge variation in capacity across the system and not evenly spaced. Over the years shows have got progressively heavier so we needed to look at updating the system to be able to accommodate that. Staff safety is also of paramount importance and we wanted to overhaul the system which saw us using very heavy weights to achieve capacity which were extremely awkward to load.”
Mike Goodwin, senior project manager, Unusual Rigging added: “The first thing we did once Waitress was taken out in August was to go into the venue, do a scan and begin the design process. Once this was achieved, we began fabrication of the counterweights and the new system. At the same time as fabrication took place, we went on site and commenced the building works to level the existing wall from a vertical point of view. It had a lot of openings that were not conducive to a straight system. So in order for the new design to work (with all sets exactly the same), we had to ensure that the wall was flat. Brickworks, partial demolition and partial building up of existing packages – fireplaces and chimneys took three weeks – we certainly came across some interesting discoveries.”
The team finished off by decorating the wall with a new black finish before they began installing the new system.
While one aspect of the brief presented to Unusual was to make the system simpler and safer to use, the other benefit to come out of the renovation was an increase in speed. Martin continued: “When we turn around a show, the longer it takes to load in and load out, the longer you don’t have bottoms on seats. With a system that is so much easier to use, the fly floor team isn’t under such strain. Also, with the ability to put a higher potential load onto the system, it makes it easier and better and also future proofs us in terms of capacity and the scales of shows we are able to put on. Video walls for example are becoming increasingly popular, but they’re incredibly heavy, so it’s good to know that we can press ahead with productions that require the extra capacity with minimal effort.”
The irony of the situation is that the COVID pandemic has given the theatre a window of opportunity. The budget had already been ring fenced and the project was always going to happen as part of a five year plan so despite capital expenditure, there was no need to account for project cost/ loss of earnings. Martin added: “Unusual Rigging is a big force in the industry and has turned around practically every show at the Adelphi. They’re also total experts at this kind of project and with work at some of our other theatres impressing the board of directors, it made them a natural fit for this project.”
Martin concluded: “COVID has undeniably created a number of challenges too. There are the practicalities of working under COVID safe conditions and at no point when this work was being planned, did we really understand when the country was going to unlock again. So, although we had this window, we didn’t really know how big the window was. Therefore we really had to tighten the timeline as hard as we could. The entire Unusual team was fantastic throughout – their work sets us up correctly for the next two phases of work which will take place in the next few years and the fact that they were able to deliver within the time frame took away a lot of stress from the decision making process. This project leaves our amazing venue in top condition to host Back to the Future this summer.”