Tough new rules for showbiz high-flyers

THE ACROBATIC spectacular at the heart of the Millennium Dome show is being used to develop tough new regulations governing the theatrical use of wires and harnesses.

Steve Colley, the head of the Dome's "aerial team" confirmed yesterday that his show was being used as "a test bed for new legislation".

While in the next few weeks Peter Pan and Tinkerbell will soar 30 feet above pantomime audiences around the country. Dome performers will reach heights of up to 145 feet.

As theatrical acrobatics becomes more and more adventurous it also becomes increasingly dangerous. The new rules devised by the Association of British Theatre Technicians should ensure no flying thespian suffers serious injury, or is even killed.

Howard Bird, ABTT's executive director, said: "It's actually deadly serious. Safety is the watchword. We're terribly sober as an association."

The risks are obvious. Toyah Willcox, who is currently playing Peter Pan at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, admits she has garnered her share of bumps and grazes in four seasons of playing JM Barrie's hero.

"Flying's absolutely wonderful. When you're up there and you've got stage nerves, you forget all about the pain of the harness," she said.

"But there is a problem with hitting things. It's very precarious. I've been knocked out - I've still got the scars on the back of my arms. They're like my war wounds."

Yet Kasper Cornish, who plays the Snowman in the musical of the same name at London's Peacock Theatre has been more lucky.

"It's never gone wrong and I've done a couple of hundred shows in the last couple of years," he said, adding: "It's a lot of fun."

The current "Flying Code" was first published in 1993 but now needs revisions to take into account European directives on safety and the increasing risk and complexity of the acts being performed.

Most of the changes involve additional safety checks on equipment, and the rules will in future also apply for the first time to school pantomimes and plays.

But the most significant impact is on Britain's often old and under-funded theatres. Derek Simpson, production manager for Jack and the Beanstalk at the Bristol Old Vic, said the latest regulations could prove costly for those that had failed to keep up-to-date.

"A lot of theatres have been working with equipment that has been there for a long time and doesn't necessarily comply with regulations that have come in recently," he said.

"Now they're enforcing the regulations, some theatres are having to spend a lot of money. If you have to replace all the steel flying lines ... you're talking about tens of thousands of pounds."

The Dome team have had to be particularly careful because of the sheer scale of the exercise, but every move has been plotted in detail, using sandbags in trials.

Sophisticated equipment and harnesses designed specially for the space mean that the aerialists can travel at nearly 30 feet a second compared with perhaps three feet a second by traditional mechanics.

But in five months rehearsing, they have had only a couple of sprains among the 70 aerial performers. "It's all working rather beautifully," Mr Colley said. "We are flying higher and faster than has ever been done before."

Matt Costain, who plays one of the leads, Sky Boy, in the aerial drama, said: "You need the people doing the health and safety work so you feel confident. You're not oblivious to the risk and the danger."

At 145 feet, probably not. But back on the ground, pantomime producer Kevin Wood said the flying was nowhere near as dangerous as the sword fight in his Peter Pan. "It's easier for something to happen that wasn't supposed to happen," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk