Last year, Bristol-born actor Adrian Harris was searching the local area for a venue to preview a play he had written. He was looking around the Kingwood Heritage Museum's beautiful grotto when the manager of the museum's trust showed him the room above it. It is huge, light and can seat over 100 comfortably. Immediately, Adrian could see its potential. With the ready made arts-loving footfall, the museum too could see the benefits of making this blank canvas into an arts space. After a year of hard work, form filling and hoop-jumping, Brass Works Theatre, South Gloucestershire’s new and only professional arts space opens its doors in July.
It has been an arduous but astounding journey. First, Adrian had to apply for a premises licence for the museum in order to provide entertainment. In order to raise funds he established the ‘Living Local’ new writing event, where members of Southwest Scriptwriters’ were invited to tour the museum and use its exhibits as inspiration. The best vignettes were then performed around the venue as a promenade piece of theatre.
Spending so much time at the museum, talking to its volunteers and looking at the area’s heritage gave Adrian many ideas for what would be the theatre’s first production. Backed by a writers’ grant from the Peggy Ramsey Foundation, and mentored by both Tim Massey of Southwest Scriptwriters and established writer Michael Jenner Adrian carefully crafted Engineers’ Blue.
With an engineer for a granddad and a deep knowledge of the locality’s struggle through 1939-1945, Adrian immersed himself in research. He even interviewed the exceptionally enthusiastic Bill Douglas, grandson of the founder of the original Douglas motorcycle factory, where the play is set. The play focuses on three workers in the factory during World War 2, which was re-tooled for the war effort and utilised newly conscripted female workers. It tells the story of this country’s finest hour – but also its darkest, as crime was often rife in the blackouts. The title comes from a paste used to this day to make accurate flat surfaces for component metal parts that are to be mated. Importantly, there is also a strong human element as the piece explores the change in relationships between people during war time, the joys for some such as women who had a new role and also the sadness of others lamenting the things and people they've lost.
With growing funds, interest and script, Adrian approached bodies such as South Gloucestershire Council and Arts Council England for assistance with the production and several months on has secured an excellent team: director Anna Girvan, designer Emma Cains, a marketing officer and several interns keen to cut their teeth. Adrian also performs in the piece along with two others, Hannah Pritchard and Simon Alexander. Kingswood Heritage Museum have also been working hard to improve access by building a widened corridor to the theatre space with direct access from the cafe/bar, and vitally they have had a stair lift installed to enable disabled access into the theatre. With an alcohol licence now also in place the possibilities for this new venue for professional theatre are increasingly exciting.
Adrian hopes that the Brass Works Theatre will fill a gap in the performance landscape, offering a flexible space for both adventurous and conventional theatre. With locals having to travel to Bristol or Bath for quality theatre up until now, there has already been a lot of support. Adrian said:
“This is an opportunity for the people of South Gloucestershire to enjoy professional theatre on their doorstep. It’s been a pleasure to write something in Kingswood, about Kingswood and for Kingswood and beyond. It has truly been a labour of love and this exhausting journey has certainly been worth it.”
Plans for the future are difficult to fix at the moment as it is dependent on certain factors. Most importantly, this will be South Gloucestershire's only professional theatre and the remit of the brief from Arts Council England is to address the question: Does this region want a professional theatre? Therefore the more people who come the more likely it is to stay. Adrian believes this is a great opportunity to enrich this region, not only culturally but by employing local people and businesses such as suppliers, printers etc. There has already been interest from other local artists who want bring their talents to the Brass Works Theatre and a preliminary season has been sketched out including conversations with artists about exhibitions, a fantastic improvised comedy company, and a new adaptation of a traditional Christmas play on the horizon.