Marcel Frederick Steiner, the creator of The Smallest Theatre in the World, was born and humbly raised in Surbiton, England, on May 11th, 1932, to Flemish-Bohemian ancestry. His first ventures into theatre began at the tender age of three with Backgarden Productions, and then at age 7 he played the part of 'The Nightmare' at the cubs. These early ventures into the world of theatre hinted at his potential. In later years critics described him as: “disgusting”, “insane”, “truly funny”, “a large dwarf”, and “huge, hairy, shambling and compellingly repulsive.” From these descriptions one can only begin to paint a picture of Marcel as being a rather unique and eccentric man.
Marcel seemed to have not been as theatrically involved again until he moved to Cornwall and then started to form The Grot Theatre Company in 1967. Before then, after he left school, he spent time working various jobs such as a tool maker, making drills, taps, dies and gauges. He then joined the military at age 18 and went on to become a PT instructor. At 21 he tried life behind the camera and made an avant-garde film called Elvira, which is said to have been well received by “its beatnik Soho audience.” Marcel subsequently went to The London School of Film Technique. However, his path to a career in the film industry was apparently blighted by nepotism. Then around 1961-64 Marcel became a postman in St. Ives in Cornwall, an occupation he was actually rather fond of.
Marcel then joined the Brighton Combination in 1969 which was a company that ran a touring community theatre company that produced and staged over 40 shows and events in Brighton and nationally. The company eventually ended up in Deptford, where the group launched the Albany’s golden era.
It was around 1970 when Marcel joined The Ken Campbell Roadshow which featured members such as Ken Campbell, Sylvester McCoy, Bob Hoskins and Jim Carter. Allegedly, at one point, Marcel bought a Panther bike and sidecar that he'd spotted in a showroom, he was always very fond of motorcycles, and at the age of 14 he apparently escaped from home to ride The Wall of Death! He decided to introduce his new purchase to the company, to which Campbell responded: "That sidecar is ridiculous! You could build a theatre in there" and that’s exactly what Marcel did, hence the creation of The Smallest Theatre in the World!
The Ken Campbell Roadshow eventually evolved into the outrageous and zany comedy troupe The Madhouse Theatre Company, which featured members such as Jim Carter, Tommy Shand and its creator Marc Weil. Although often compared to Monty Python, it is clear that The Madhouse Company was in another league of its own. They went to whole new levels of vulgar and insane. Never ones to shy away from blatant sex or violence – it would seem that they didn’t mind pushing a few buttons! However, as it turned out, not everyone appreciated their provocative nature. A certain performance at the Chicago Playboy Club ended up getting the group kicked out due to their penchant for nudity, which was meant to be part of the performance for only 5 seconds. As Marcel recalls: “We were booked to play the circuit and we put into the programme the old Berlin mail-bag escape trick, the thing the buskers do. One of the actors, Hamlet McWailbanger, was wrapped in chains and put inside a long sack which was pulled tight and locked. He struggles wildly to free himself and when he finally emerges… he’s lost his pants and trousers. Looking down McWailbanger discovers his nudity and jumps back into the bag.”
As well as theatre, Marcel also dabbled in a few film and TV projects such as: Little Dorrit (1988), The Madness Museum (1986), Play for Today (1980), The Innes Book of Records (1980), Arabian Adventure (1979), Target (1977) and most notably From Beyond the Grave (1974).
From Beyond the Grave is a horror film based on a collection of supernatural tales. One story features a mirror that compels its owner to perform hideous acts and beyond the mirror dwells a creature that weaves the evil spells. The viewers were horrified when the creature revealed his human form, and Marcel, who was playing the creature, was horrified too…
“What do you mean, I don’t need makeup!” He was indignant.
“You’re fine as you are” was the director’s reply.
“But I’m supposed to look like a monster”.
Marcel looked like a friendly version of Rasputin; tall and rambling, with a wizened face framed by an unkempt beard and wild rolling eyes. It’s no wonder why he was cast for the role!
Towards the end of Marcel’s career, The Smallest Theatre in the World took more prominence over the years when he worked with Pat Brown and Gerry Marsh. The Smallest Theatre seemed to thrive during these years and shortly after Gerry retired from acting The Smallest Theatre proudly performed outside The National Theatre. It was during this run that Marcel discovered that he was terminally ill with Cancer, but the show must go on, and so it did with old friends such as John Turner stepping into the breach. With a certain amount of fondness, The Smallest Theatre was still on Marcel’s mind as he lay dying. This account was given of his death by Pat Brown. At Marcel’s bedside, Brown was in tears:
"Literally with his last gasp of breath, he held up one commanding hand and said, 'Pat, I want you to carry on the Smallest Theatre'," Brown recalled.
"Then the hand fell back. He died. He died with those poxy words. Bastard had obviously been rehearsing it," said Brown tenderly.
"Well, this was very bad luck for me. I had a job, I didn't want to do the Smallest Theatre. And I didn't get the props or the costumes, I didn't have a van, all I got was his dying command to keep the show going."