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‘I went to a marvellous party’ – bringing to life the extraordinary archive of Oliver Messel

Tom Marshman as Oliver Messel Vonalina Cake Photography Bristol 2019

Tom Marshman researching the Oliver Messel Archive Vonalina Cake Photography Bristol 2019

Oliver Messel, photographed by James de Vries

Press release issued: 18 February 2019

Bristol-based Performance artist Tom Marshman invites you to a marvellous party, bringing to life the fascinating personal archive of Oliver Messel, one of the twentieth century’s leading theatrical stars.

Part-installation, part-performance, the events, in collaboration with the University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection, are free and open for drop-ins throughout the day and will be staged at three different locations across Bristol, see times, and dates below (no booking required).

Born in 1904, Oliver Messel was one of the 'bright young things' in 1920s London and is widely regarded as one of the last century’s foremost theatrical designers.

As master of ceremonies, Tom will be drawing out untold stories from Oliver’s captivating world, animating the installation with timed performances inspired by a host of characters from Oliver’s personal and professional life from Bright Young Things, to Hollywood starlets and theatrical dames.

Visitors are encouraged to explore the installation, sharing in Tom’s curiosity as he delved through Messel’s Archive – held at the Theatre Collection, discovering handwritten letters, musings and conversations, weaved together and brought to life through audio and reproductions of original material.

Tom’s shows are known for their ‘hand crafted, intimate and naughty’ approach, often both ‘humorous, high-brow, low-brow, sensory, stomach churning, conversational, and sentimental’ all at once.

Gemma Brace, Exhibition and Engagement Officer from the Theatre Collection, said: “Join us as he turns his hand to the hidden histories of Oliver’s life, celebrated through the stories of this marvellous party.”

The events are part of a wider Sharing the Messel Magic project which includes the free exhibition Oliver Messel: Wake Up and Dream – Theatre, Art and Society at the Theatre Collection until April 2019.

The events, kindly supported by the Arts Council of England, are as follows:

  • 26 February, Kings Weston House Social hosted by Impermanence, (booking required for this venue only)
  • 2 March, The Vestibules (Deanery Road), City Hall, College Green, Bristol
    10am – 4pm (with timed performances at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm)
  • 3 March, The Vestibules (Deanery Road), City Hall, College Green, Bristol
    11am – 4pm (with timed performances at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm)
  • 9 March, Trinity Centre, Trinity Rd, Bristol BS2 0NW
    10am – 4pm (with timed performances at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm)
  • 23 March, Arts Mansion, Ashton Court Estate, Long Ashton, Bristol BS41 9JN
    10am – 4pm (with timed performances at 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm)
  • 24 March, Arts Mansion, Ashton Court Estate, Long Ashton, Bristol BS41 9JN
    11am – 4pm (with timed performances at 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 3pm).

All locations are fully accessible but please contact the Theatre Collection if you would like further information about the facilities.

If you are 18+ and are interested in volunteering at an event, please email us at the Theatre Collection on how to get involved or visit

If sharing on social media, please use the hashtag #messelsmarvellousparty

Further information

Oliver Messel Archive

The personal archive of Oliver Messel was acquired in 2015 by the Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol. Alongside the Oliver Messel Design Archive, housed at the V&A, it provides a comprehensive history of Messel’s life and work, which were so often intertwined.

It includes photographic scrapbooks, sketchbooks, costume and set designs, stage and architectural plans, interior and furniture designs from the Caribbean, and a selection of plaster casts, masks and costumes, as well as professional and personal correspondence from amongst others; Lauren Bacall, Max Beerbohm, John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh and Michael Redgrave, and images by leading photographers, including Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson and Lord Snowdon, as well as many by Messel himself.

All the items in the Archive either relate to Messel’s time in Barbados, where he moved in 1966 or were taken to the island upon setting up home at Maddox, where he lived with his partner Vagn Riis- Hansen. On Messel’s death in 1978, the contents of his house and studio were left to his nephew Thomas Messel who retained custody of these items until they were sold to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection in 2015.

The Archive has been catalogued as part of a two-year project to both catalogue and conserve this important collection. The purchase of the Archive was made possible due to support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries amongst others. Cataloguing and conservation have been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Linbury Trust and various individuals.

About Tom Marshman

Tom Marshman is an artist, based in Bristol, who has been making performance art for over ten years working in a wide range of mediums including performance, photography, installation, publication and film.

With a fascination for uncovering extraordinary stories from ordinary lives, Tom develops artworks that are cross-generational, resonating with people that may be unfamiliar with contemporary performance.

His work actively encourages dialogue with audiences and participants, aiming to create a safe space to share thoughts and experiences. These evocative and authentic glimpses into the everyday often include a visual aesthetic which mixes minimalism with charity shop kitsch.

His work has been shown in a variety of venues including Bristol Old Vic, Arnolfini, Oval House, Chapter Arts Centre, Battersea Arts Centre, Basement Brighton, Colchester Arts Centre Exeter Phoenix and within Festivals including National Review of Live Art, In Between Time, and White Nights.

He is the recipient of the Peggy Ramsay, New Writing Award (2008), the Small Wonders Award - Picture This (2006), New Work Network - Network Bodies Award, Art and Business Award - Strike a Match and Arts Matrix Award South West (2005) and Princes Trust Award (2000) and has received residencies/support from Pervasive Media Studio, ICIA at University of Bath, Arnolfini and Chisenhale Dance Space, as well as project grants from Arts Council England.

University of Bristol Theatre Collection

The Theatre Collection is one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history and Live Art and is an accredited museum and international research facility open to all.  Founded in 1951 to serve the first UK university drama department, its collections range from 1572 to the twenty-first century and its visitors include everyone from international scholars to family historians. We enable the Collection to be used for education, research, innovation, enjoyment and inspiration by all those who wish to do so.

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