THOMAS Kilroy’s play is set in 1943 in an Ireland maintaining its neutrality, fearing invasion from every side, in the grip of petrol rationing and attempting to continue an existence of blarney and petty crime through happy ignorance.
And Jenny Stephens’ production for Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, on a studio stage backed with trees just as The Crucible is, upstairs on the main stage, captures it perfectly.
A five-strong troupe of travelling players has run out of fuel in a village where the policeman is in the grip of self-doubt, dealing badly with a fantasist teenage daughter and unable to refuse a bit of fraud with the owner of a prizewinning greyhound.
Tradesmen put on uniforms to patrol as Local Defence Force, spotting Reds under the beds, Huns in the barns and Yanks behind the banks. And an orphaned girl goes looking for love.
Kilroy says his play is about what happens to people when they put costumes on, and so, with the parched theatre van as its centrepiece, the story unfolds.
The tension is maintained by shadowy figures in the trees, and these talented young student actors also play a variety of instruments, weaving more spells in the gloom.
The titular Madame Macadam (that’s m’d-aam) holds the troupe together as she always has. A talented performer, she has buried her own ambitions to make way for her husband and leading man, Lyle Jones, a charismatic, camp ham still playing juvenile lead way beyond his years. There are two younger actors, the prodigiously talented, promiscuous and totally barmy Rabe and Sally, cast in the mould of Madame in her support of this damaged and damaging man. And then there is the mute Simon, the mechanic and spear carrier.
Under the sprawling and typically story Irish and sometimes caricature humour lurk thought-provoking and timeless truths.
The excellent company brings it to vibrant life. Will Kelly’s Lyle Jones captures the vulnerability and controlling fear and Jessica Temple (so memorable as Foigard in the Beaux Stratagem) is the calm, determined and heart-broken Madame. Poppy Peddler is a scene stealing Jo, with Jenny Haynes as the romanticising Marie Therese.
Then there are Brad Morrison’s soul-searching police sergeant and Daniel Bogod’s tormented Rabe in this versatile cast which also provides the sounds of dogs, pigeons and impending somethings in the shadows …
It’s fun, beautifully observed and a treat to see a new play performed by such promising performers.
The future programme includes not only the Christmas show(The Wind in the Willows) at the Redgrave, but The Ruff Guide to Shakespeare, The Tempest and The Trojan Women, before its time for the graduate showcases next summer.
The Madame Macadam Travelling Theatre is stuck at the Studio until 10th November, and well worth a visit.