During the recent Bristol Doors Open Day we were lucky enough to explore all parts of the wonderful Bristol Old Vic, Britain’s oldest working theatre, and were intrigued to check out the Studio for the first time. We’ve seen a few performances in the eighteenth century auditorium but not the much more modern 150 seat Studio. The opening night of The Madame Macadam Travelling Theatre was a good chance to check it out.
Performed by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which has a glittering alumni including Brian Blessed, Olivia Coleman and Daniel Day-Lewis, the play is a comic melodrama set in 1943.
A travelling group of English actors arrive in a small Irish town but they run out of petrol and are forced to continue to perform until they can get hold of some black market fuel. What follows is a very entertaining clash of cultures as the rural Irish folk get involved with a group of ever so English thespians.
We were sat in the front row of the space and with no raised stage we were up close and personal to the action; so close in fact that we could see the sweat on the actors’ foreheads under the theatre lights!
Our favourite performances were given by Will Kelly as the over the top eccentric actor who can’t resist belting out a bit of Shakespeare at every opportunity, and Poppy Pedder who plays a brilliantly convincing teenage girl, Jo, who falls in love with Lyle, a womanising young actor.
Special mention must also be given to the staging. The theatre group’s van forms the basis of a very simple set up but it is hugely effective as it used as a stage and several rooms surrounded by the greenery of a Irish forest. The company also make clever use of lighting and the dark clothing worn by members of the cast who stand in the background at several points during the play adds a sinister feel to a comedy set in the midst of the Second World War but in a country that was officially neutral.
This was the first public performance by the theatre school students during their third year of studies, but we were most impressed. It seems there are plenty more Daniel Day-Lewises and Olivia Colemans to come out of Bristol!
The Madame Macadam Travelling Theatre runs at the Bristol Old Vic until 10 November.