Bromyard actor Chris Barltrop became a circus ringmaster in 1976. Now, as part of this year’s celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the world’s first modern circus back in 1768, he’s about to première a one-man play he’s written about the entrepreneur behind that initial show, cavalry Sergeant-Major and war hero Philip Astley. The world’s first performance of Audacious Mr Astley will take place at Leominster Priory on Thursday, March 22 at 7.30pm.

"Like many important pieces of history, the true story of that first show and the early years of the circus arts has got blurred into myth," said Chris. "Astley didn’t invent the circus, but he was an instinctive and larger-than-life showman who fostered its birth and its evolution from the displays of trick-riding he gave with his wife in London into an international art-form incorporating comedy, acrobatics, and feats of strength and physical skill.

"Since I joined my first circus all that time ago," explains the actor and writer, "I’ve spent a lot of my spare time researching Astley’s story – how he performed to passers-by in a roped-off circular arena on an open field in Lambeth; how he began to include other performers and then took his new show to Ireland, to Vienna and Belgrade, and also to France where his troupe performed for Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI.

"There are circuses now in almost every country across the world. In terms of global popular culture, Astley’s initiative is as significant as Shakespeare’s," claims Chris.

The performance lasts 40 minutes. Admission is free, with a collection in support of the church.