Although the big theatrical news in Bristol this summer is the re-opening of the Theatre Royal following its £10 million facelift, brand new small-scale venues also continue to arrive on the local scene in impressive numbers.
The latest is located above Kingswood Heritage Museum on the site of an 18th century brass factory, giving the south Gloucestershire fringe of the city its first-ever professional theatre. Local actor-playwright Adrian Harris, himself appropriately enough a former mechanic, has launched the project with a play about the area’s industrial past.
One of the most iconic products manufactured in Bristol in the 20th century was the Douglas motor cycle. Harris’s well-researched and revealing play tells how its Kingswood factory was revamped during the 1939-45 conflict to serve the war effort, using newly conscripted women workers for the first time.
But this is no mere sanitised piece of nostalgia. Harris and his fellow actors, Hannah Pritchard and Simon Alexander, keep just the right side of melodrama in portraying the dark side of the war on the home front, with blackmarket activity and actual crime all too prevalent during the blackout. Indeed, the engineers’ blue of the title is a symbolic reference to a paste used to highlight imperfections on the surface of metal components.
Both sides of the Second World War equation in Britain - the salt-of-the-earth workers and the chancers who took the opportunity to make a quick profit - are neatly leavened with the sometimes gentle, sometimes black humour so typical of wartime.