Rigging fit for a king (of pop)

30th May 2024

When Matt Towell was contracted to manage the West End production of MJ the Musical, at London’s Prince Edward Theatre, Unusual Rigging was at the top of his list of suppliers. The brief was to design, supply and install the rigging and a full divert system in a space that could be described as ‘tighter than Jacko’s trousers’.
Based on the making of the 1992 Dangerous World Tour, MJ has won multiple Tony Awards for its Broadway run and is drawing rave reviews in the West End. Matt commented: “The rigging install for MJ was complicated by the fact that although the theatre has plenty of lifting capacity, where the various items were designed for flying, the bar centres were not able to be placed at the usual 200mm spaces. We needed a solution that could squeeze everything in, while still providing enough space so that they could clear each other. And that’s where Unusual’s Emily Egleton came in.”
Emily explained “The flying pack is extremely tight. In some places there is only 25mm between the flown items. The main element of the set is some angled windows which run up either side of the stage. These open to create doors which the set flies and tracks through. We had to divert every one of the 20 flown set pieces to ensure that they landed on the stage in the desired position.”
Unusual supplied an array of kit including truss, motors and grid diverts. Working over three weeks under the supervision of chief rigger Harrison Snelling, the team was responsible for all the scenic elements, removing and reinstating steelwork on one of the galleries to get the sliders out to trim and building motors and dead hang brackets for the scenic items in Thriller. Matt added:” There’s a massive LED screen at the back of the set that Unusual produced the motors and dead hangs for – they also helped us figure out access to the back of it with a crawl truss and motors that would allow electricians to get access if needed.”
The main challenge was making the large set elements fly past each other with very little tolerance. Emily worked closely with Ben Davies the design associate in the engineering design phase of production to ensure that these tolerances could be maintained. Another issue at the Prince Edward Theatre is that load in is via a door downstage in the left wing about 20ft above sage level. Unusual devised a solution which allowed for the truss, motors, trolley beans and scenic pieces (some measuring up to 10m long) into the venue with minimum disruption to the work taking place on stage.
Matt concluded: “MJ is a really complex show which requires competence and expertise. Over the last 20 years of working together on jobs like this, MJ has to be one of the smoothest fit ups ever, and it’s down to Emily’s liaison with all the departments, the way Harrison runs his crew on a day-to-day basis and the brilliant support from Simon Stone and the guys in the yard. Unusual once provided the first class service we’ve come to expect and more.”

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