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Backdrop to new David Essex musical created in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 16:00 27 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:22 01 July 2010

All the Fun of the Fair set

All the Fun of the Fair set

Richard Batson

The swirling colour and noise of a funfair will explode on to a London West End stage this week.

But the dodgem cars and sideshow stalls providing a vibrant setting for the action in a musical starring David Essex, were created in a studio at a Norfolk seaside town.

The swirling colour and noise of a funfair will explode on to a London West End stage tomorrow night.

But the dodgem cars and sideshow stalls providing a vibrant setting for the action in a musical starring David Essex, were created in a studio at a Norfolk seaside town.

Scenery for All the Fun of the Fair has been devised and built by Gorleston man Ian Westbrook and his handful of artists, engineers and model-makers at 3D Creations.

The only clue to the link may have been the glimpse of three dodgems trundling along Bells Road for a fun photo shot for the business scrapbook - captioned “new company cars.”

It is just the latest big show on the growing and glowing CV of 45-year-old Mr Westbrook, whose backdrops and props have been seen at theatres all over the UK, on a worldwide rock music tour by Iron Maiden and even in giant fish tanks across Europe.

He is well-known in his native Norfolk too for his involvement in the Cromer Pier shows, and has also supplied props for the popular Thursford Christmas extravaganza.

All the Fun of the Fair is a rollercoaster musical celebration of David Essex's hits, taking its name from his 1975 album. It sees him play funfair owner David Levi in a story of fortune-telling, mystery, danger and love.

The London version has had a major revamp from the touring version which visited Norwich last year, and showcases songs such as A Winter's Tale, Hold Me Close, Gonna Make You a Star, Silver Dream Machine and Rock On.

Mr Wesbrook's involvement in creating the funfair scenery began in February and took eight weeks. It included buying four motorbikes, stripping them down to remove unnecessary weight and draining all flammable oil and petrol.

The dodgems also had to be modified.

“We gutted the engines, and put the bodies on to battery-operated mobility scooters in a 'cut and shut',” said Mr Westbrook.

But the biggest problem at the Garrick Theatre was its tall but narrow 83cm-wide stage door, which meant items had to be designed to fit through.

“On tour it takes about four hours to set up scenery. At this show it took two working days just to unload,” he explained. “It has been one of our hardest ever get-ins. But it was worth it. We got a standing ovation at a preview show.”

His behind-the-scenes showbiz career was sparked at the age of seven when he went to see his sister in a school production of the Pirates of Penzance at the Denes High School in Lowestoft.

“I went backstage and picked what I thought was a real sword, which was made of wood, and found the rocks were painted cardboard. I knew then what I wanted to be.”

By 14 he was a stage hand helping with summer shows at Yarmouth's Britannia Pier in the days of seasons by Dick Emery and Cannon and Ball, before getting an apprenticeship as a scenery designer and taking an arts degree.

“My parents were very tolerant when I was a teenager. I once made a coffin in my bedroom and had to lower it out of the window, and was always blowing up my room with pyrotechnics,” said Mr Westbrook, who started 3D Creations 28 years ago and whose reputation now earns him top jobs in the showbiz world.

“It's all about getting an empty space and trying to create and illusion,” he added.

For the Cromer shows he works from the musical score, and discussions with deviser Di Cooke to dream up scenery to suit each item - which has involved a Singing in the Rain shower set, and flying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - on a tiny pier-end stage.

At the workshops a half-finished scene, with iconic poses by Michael Jackson, gives a clue to this year's show.

On the drawing board are sketches for lavish sets for huge theatres, on new cruise ships, where the stages are twice the size of Norwich's Theatre Royal.

But the work is not always glamorous.

His sets are also enjoyed by fish and aquarium visitors from the UK to Madrid, and has seen him also go underwater to install them - including having to fend off a still-hungry shark in a tank in Belgium.

The team has also produced some gory items for a Horrible Science stage show including a dismembered arm and 10m of intestines.

And during the rock tours with Iron Maiden the work not only needed a creative mind, but a strong stomach.

“Doing an Eddie monster with hair was one of the worst jobs ever. It involved me getting some horse tails from an abattoir, still on their stumps, cleaning, bleaching and combing them - while feeling sick,” said Mr Westbrook.

See more about his work at www.3dcreations.co.uk

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