Summit Steel Raises Hopes
Thursday, 17 May 2001
Just days before previews commenced, Thelma Holt’s new production of Noel Coward’s Semi Monde had a weighty problem. The main scenic element, essentially a large hemisphere built of steel frame and plaster, remained resolutely on terra firma. Summit Steel effected a solution, but it was not just a question of the appropriate support. The set-builders had estimated a weight of 2000 lbs for the hemisphere, calculating that it would be flown by strapping eight counter weight fly bars together. However, when all eight cradles were fully loaded, the structure refused to defy gravity. "Fortunately, one of the production crew had worked at the Albery Theatre where we had solved a similar flying problem for that theatre’s production of Baby Doll," said Chris Walker of Summit Steel. "A frantic Monday morning phone call to tell us of their nightmare meant we were able to meet quickly with the Theatre owner’s consulting engineer and have a fully operational system up and running by Wednesday." Sighs of relief all round since the show’s first preview was that Thursday.

Once on site Summit quickly discovered the object in fact weighed 2.5 tons, more than twice the original estimate! They supported the set piece by static lines to a 10m by 4m box truss grid which in turn hangs by six electric chain hoists, rigged to spreader beams laid between the Theatre’s wooden beams. "The big problem is daily movement," explained Walker. "Due to the object being moved in and out for every show on a multiple point movement system, there’s always the possibility of any single point taking too much load due to minute variations in hoist speeds. These can build cumulatively into a big displacement. To avoid this we installed one of Summit Steel’s loadcell monitoring devices in line with each hoist to indicate such discrepancies."

Despite their tight schedule, Summit found time during the installation to train the theatre’s Master Carpenter, who has responsibility for moving the set piece each day, to use the hoist control and load monitoring system. "He has a daily check list much like that used by airline pilots with a list of operational checks, each of which has to be ticked off as he does them," said Walker. "That way there’s no excuse for errors, and the man responsible can feel confident and competent in the system operation." The show runs until 3 June.

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