The Association of British Theatre Technicians

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MAY 2015




ABTT Members’ Visit to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane



Download the pdf. flier here ABTT Theatre Visit to Drury Lane London   for full information, directions & travel notes.

Date: Wednesday 6th May 2015

Venue: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5JF

Time: Meeting at 9:30am in the Foyer



Since 1663 the Theatre Royal Drury Lane has provided entertainment for the masses.  The venue holds the distinction of having been visited by every monarch since the Restoration.  The theatre was renowned for its spectacular Victorian melodramas and pantomimes but since the 1920s its history has mirrored the development of the modern musical, from the original London productions of American musicals Rose Marie, The Desert Song and Show Boat, through Ivor Novello’s romantic operettas and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s groundbreaking post-war shows to The Producers and The Lord of the RingsMy Fair Lady held the record as the theatre’s longest run for many years but Cameron Mackintosh’s record breaking production of Miss Saigon, at ten years, is the current record holder. After Shrek the Musical the latest spectacular show in residence at Drury Lane is Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Sam Mendes and now moving into its 3rd year.

The challenges of installing Charlie were huge due to the technical expectations, the complex production, the 200-year-old venue and the precision required by the creative team’s vision. The main system of counterweights, floor tracks and sliders were reasonably conventional and did not pose any particular challenges through the fit up, but the bespoke elements of the production required much greater focus.

One of the show’s key elements, the Glass Elevator, in which Willy Wonka and Charlie fly towards the end of Act Two, required a specially-commissioned robotic arm to lift the glass elevator safely and seamlessly from below the stage and fly it over the orchestra pit, while simultaneously compensating for any tilting or rotation.  Not only did this arm and its lifting tower have to meet the challenges posed by the building but they were also required to store the elevator under the stage when not in use. The related hydraulic pumps and control gear were installed in the theatre’s basement prior to the stage floor being built. Upon delivery the arm and elevator were essentially live prototypes which had to be refined throughout the technical period.

The automation system also includes two Explorer trucks, controlled from the Acrobat desk but utilising a laser guidance system for positioning. The trucks are used extensively throughout Act 1 to create different shapes upstage, downstage and across the stage. The challenge in this instance was that the system had to triangulate its position whilst traveling on a raked stage (to our knowledge the first time this has been achieved) and position accurately whilst other scenic elements moved around it. Given the raked stage, uneven centres of gravity in the trucks and the amount of other moving scenery with the potential to obscure any or all of the lines of sight for the guidance system, it took complex programming to reach a safe, secure and reliable programme for the long-term.

The automation system consists of:

•    20  counterweight assist winches (BT200 winches)

•    18 grid point hoists: 13 x BT200, 4 x BT390 (including two winches on the “Oompa Gantry, a large flown bridge with 16 performers on board) and  1 x BT490

•    4 tracking axes:  2 x BT Classic winches and 2 x MiniTow winches

•    3 in set motors

•    6 floor tracks (2 x BT Classic, 3 x belt drives, 1 x BT 390)

•    2  winch driven stage lifts

•    2  Hydraulic Drop and slide doors

•    3  Hydraulic trap doors

•    10  Au:tour 6 racks with a variation of drive sizes

•    2  Au:tour link & e-stop hubs

•    1  bespoke control cabinet containing hydraulic control, a couple of drives and IO control

•    2  on board control cabinets for the shack trucks (explorer trucks)

•    1 Hydraulic pump control panel

•    1  Acrobat desk for show running

•    1  Acrobat desk for FOH programming

•    1  HMI for explorer truck configuration

•    1  server

“Glass Elevator”:

•    Hydraulic ram driven telescoping tower (to lift arm and elevator out of basement)

•    7 hydraulic & electric axes on elevator

•    1  bespoke hydraulic & electric control cabinet

•    1  pump control for 5 hydraulic pumps

•    1 electrically driven rotate slew (mounted on top of tower, to rotate arm mechanism)

•    2 large proportionally controlled hydraulic rams (elbow mechanism)

•    1 proportionally controlled telescoping extending arm

•    1 electrical actuator (for tilt compensation)

•    1 electrical actuator (for elevator rotate compensation)

“Shacks” Trucks (x2):

•    2  Explorer trucks (2 x steer and 2 x drive motors in each truck)

•    Each truck has two drive wheels and two steer axes

•    Laser guidance system

•    On-board control and battery

•    Radio control system

•    All the above are delivered as modular bolt-in units to fit within any scenic element required.

Getting there:

By Tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Holborn   

By Bus: 1, 4, 11, 13, 15, 23, 26, 59, 68, 76, 91, 139, 168, 171, 176, 188, 243, 341, 521  

By Car: There is a NCP car park on Drury Lane

For more information visit the website here;


Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5JF