Following Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's successful three-and-a-half-year run at the London Palladium, the production took to the road last December to embark on a three-year national tour. Currently being staged at the Manchester Palace Theatre, the show is set to move to Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bristol and Southampton.
The show's automation supplier, Stage Technologies, has been working with Delstar Engineering and Stage Services to make a number of significant changes to the original control system to cater for the touring production. The challenging design modifications were necessary to create a transportable set and also adhere to restrictions on the removal of stage flooring in the receiving venues.
"Touring Chitty is certainly a challenging project and the timescales are always quite short for the fit-ups in the new venues,” explains Mike Savage, Stage Technologies project manager. “There are a number of technical obstacles that have to be overcome when touring a show of this size, for example the control system had to be split to accommodate the main hydraulic power pack being toured in a container which lives outside the theatre in each location due to its size."
Previously, a large mechanical arm raised the magical flying car through the stage floor. For this touring production, the mechanical arm is now run up and down stage on a toothed drive belt. With Stage Technologies Visual Creator software the car is still able to perform the impressive 360º turns while tilting and panning, and with clever lighting the arm is hidden from sight to create the very magical illusion.
Stage Technologies floor tracks, sliders, performer flying rigs and car mechanics are all controlled from an Acrobat control desk. The show's automation operator, Richard Willcox, has worked with Stage Technologies equipment for over six years on productions such as the Millennium Dome Central Show, Miss Saigon UK and Japan tours, Witches of Eastwick in Japan and also the new Harry Potter movie. Needless to say his experience of performer flying makes him an ideal candidate to work with the cast and crew on Chitty's UK tour.
"Stage Technologies' engineers have done a great job in providing a reliable system that is suited to the demands of touring a large show and customised specifically for the specialized automation,” says Willcox. “We look forward to working with them all again in three months time when the show moves to Birmingham!"