All hands on deck kept show rolling
The motor which drives the huge revolving scenery for the musical “Oliver” broke down last night, causing alarm – and a lot of hard work – backstage at the Hastings Municipal Theatre.
But the show went on despite the mishap, which occurred in the first act and was not cured throughout the second.
When the curtain fell at the end of the night the audience was barely aware that anything untoward had happened.
But backstage the red alert was on – and the situation was saved only by every available hand leaping to and heaving the scenery into place for each change.
The problem was how to get enough men in position to push the heavy revolve without them being seen by the audience.
Their efforts were made harder by the huge belt which propels the scenery. It encircles the 22ft diameter revolve and tended to act as a brake when the scene changes were due.
An electrician was on the job today to find the fault in the motor, which worked sometimes and failed four others.
“We were scared the show would come to a standstill,” a member of the company said today. “But we got there in the end and the audience gave the show a great hearing. It must have been obvious that the revolve was a bit slow turning, but it apparently didn’t detract too much.”
The drama began about 8.45pm when Peter Dixon, who was calling the scene change cues, pressed the button to set the revolve in motion.
The motor whirred and then cut out. The revolve didn’t move.
Most of the cast were on stage singing “Consider Yourself One of Us.” They set off to their pre-selected spots on the stage, but the revolve didn’t go with them.
Seconds were being lost, the action was in danger of being ruined, the orchestra was running out of music and, like the audience, didn’t know anything was wrong backstage.
Peter Dixon pushed buttons frantically. Suddenly the revolve turned and the scene change was accomplished.
As the musical continued stage manager John Collier marshalled every available man and positioned them for the next scene change. Hurried checks were made to locate the fault in the motor. No success.
Up came the next vital cue. Peter pressed the button. The revolve stood still. In dived John’s crew. They heaved and pushed and gradually got the revolve moving.
On stage the boys were singing “Be Back Soon.”
Down in the orchestral well conductor Cecil Fitzwater sensed something was amiss. The adult chorus was due on stage as soon as the boys were finished singing, but the revolve hadn’t turned into position. He held back the continuing music slightly and by the time the adults reached the stage the music and movement were nearly matching again.
During the interval the electrical fault could not be located.
For the stage crew the second act was a nervewracking affair. As each scene change came, Peter Dixon pressed the buttons frantically. Sometimes the revolve worked. Three times it didn’t.
Every time it moved the crew had to leap away from the moving timber. When it didn’t they had to leap into action before any more seconds were lost.
Fortunately, the motor swung into action for the toughest and most crucial scene change – the setting up of London Bridge.
After the final curtain the cast stayed on stage to applaud the stage crew for its strenuous effort.
“Oliver!”, which is a joint production by the Hastings Light Opera Company and the Napier Operatic Society, drew an audience of 780 last night. There were 766 there on Wednesday. Both nights the gallery was open.
So far 4050 people have seen the show, which finishes its Hastings season with a performance tonight and a matinee and evening performance tomorrow.