TAIT Stage Technologies supplied a massive 75-axis automation system for the world premier, West End smash, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane. TAIT supplied the full automation package, consisting of counterweight assist winches, floor tracks, trucks, sliders, supplementary motors, stage engineering and hydraulics.
“Working with the team from TAIT Stage Technologies on Charlie has been an absolute pleasure. The installation of the show into Drury Lane has been incredibly smooth.”
Production Manager, Patrick Molony
The technical expectations of Charlie were huge, both because of the challenges of installing the complex show in a 200-year-old venue and by the precision required by the creative team’s vision. While the main system of counterweights, floor tracks and sliders were reasonably conventional and did not pose particular challenges, the bespoke elements of the show required extra focus.
One of the show’s key elements, the Glass Elevator, ridden by Willy Wonka and Charlie, required a specially-commissioned robot arm to lift the elevator safely and seamlessly from below stage and fly it over the orchestra pit, while simultaneously compensating for any tilting or rotation. The arm and its lifting tower were required to meet not only the challenges posed by the building but also they were also responsible for storing the elevator under the stage when not in use. Essentially a live prototype, the Glass Elevator had to be refined throughout the technical period because the hydraulic pumps and control had been installed in the theatre’s basement prior to the stage floor being built and prior to the delivery of the arm and elevator.
“The work on the Glass Elevator has brought us amazing results in incredibly difficult circumstances. This proved to be a more difficult project than any of us really understood at the beginning and after many hours of work they produced results that finish the show brilliantly and get cheers every night.”
The automation system also included two Explorer trucks, which are controlled from the Acrobat desk but utilise a laser guidance system for positioning. The trucks are used extensively throughout Act I to create different shapes upstage, downstage and across 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 them. Patrick Molony said “We were using some state of the art automation equipment in our Shack trucks, which had to be made to work in conditions which had never been encountered before. Given the raked stage, totally uneven centres of gravity of the trucks and mass of other scenery determined to obscure all lines of sight for the guidance system, this was a very difficult task for us to chuck at TAIT Stage Technologies. After many hours of work and some impressive programming we have a system which has become very reliable.”