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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Royal Enfield's sidecar is world's smallest theater

This tidy "theater" is a motorcycle sidecar.
The Smallest Theatre in the World — seating capacity two — is said to be a large, boxy sidecar of a Royal Enfield motorcycle. The mobile theatrical venue tours with The Grand Theatre of Lemmings, a none too grand group of English comedians willing to do anything for a giggle.

Thus their completely inappropriate choice for this summer's touring production: "King Kong."

The theater on wheels is usually photographed from the passenger side, blocking the view of the motorcycle, but a photo on the Smallest Theatre's Facebook page shows a relatively recent Royal Enfield motorcycle. It is described as the theater's new "side kick." So presumably it is the sidecar tug now in use.

Cast members aboard Royal Enfield.
The Smallest Theatre in the World itself dates to the 1970s; reviving it recently meant stripping wallpaper so moldy it brought tears to the eye.

In the course of restoration it was discovered that some long ago cast or audience member had scribbled a message inside: "No Smoking This Side of Theatre."

The theater's website explains that "The Lemmings are now working in partnership with Chelmsford City Council Arts team to rehabilitate the 'Smallest Theatre in the World,' an extraordinary piece of street theater history and testimony to the madcap inventiveness of British street arts and its creator Marcel Steiner."

A 2003 article in The Guardian provides these details about Steiner, now deceased, and his sidecar theater:

"Marcel Steiner, a veteran of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, was touring with Ken Campbell's Road Show, when he bought a battered Panther motorbike, with a gigantic sidecar. 'That sidecar is ridiculous!' exclaimed Ken, or Bob, or Jim (authorship of the joke is disputed), 'you could build a theatre in that sidecar.'

"Before he ran away to join a circus, Steiner trained as a toolmaker, and is fondly remembered as a man who could make anything. He duly made the theatre, complete with box office, stage door, Sistine Chapel frescoed ceiling, red plush curtains, and one surprisingly comfortable red cushioned seat.

"He toured the world with it for 30 years, boasting that it was the only theatre which sold 100 percent of the tickets for every performance. When it burned to the ground at the Edinburgh Festival, donations poured in and he rebuilt it in 24 hours."

This circa 1980 video of the Smallest Theatre in performance is not to be missed:

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