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Making drama of middle age

Nicola Mostyn celebrates four decades at the Octagon Theatre 40th Anniversary Season Launch

Published on May 17th 2007.

Making drama of middle age

If an indication of one’s success is how many people are queuing up to help celebrate your 40th birthday, then Bolton’s Octagon Theatre is a winner.

Well-known faces from stage and screen, including Matthew Kelly and Jeff (Cain Dingle) Hordley, attended the launch of the theatre’s 40th Anniversary Season.

Or, as comedian Dave Spikey put it: “It’s like performing to a page of TV Quick. Look, there’s him off Holby!”

Spikey kicked off proceedings by recalling the impact the Octagon had on him while he was growing up in Bolton, explaining that events such as the regular platform for new and local talent, Friday Live, contributed to his commitment to make it as a comedian.

Then it was time to cast an eye on the Octagon’s past four decades.

Tackling 1967-1977, comedian and actor Bernard Wrigley spoke about when he and Spikey were asked to supply the music and act in the theatre’s 1968 documentary Crompton's Mule. The next year, when asked to return full time for Bolton Massacre, the pair gave up their jobs and turned professional. “Now, 37 years later,” said Wrigley, “I can't do anything else.’

Looking back to 1977-1987, Noreen Kershaw (Life on Mars), who appeared as Maggie in the theatre’s production of Hobson’s Choice, recalled the impact of the Octagon’s performance space on actors, “In the round, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Next up was John ‘Billy Corkhill’ McCardle who represented the theatre’s third decade. McCardle performed with screen wife Sue Johnston in Bolton playwright Jim Cartwright’s emotional two-hander Two, written especially for the pair. The actor cheerfully recalled the performance during which an old dear and apparent Brookie fan interjected into one of the poignant silences of his moving monologue: “Billy! Do you prefer this or TV?”

Lastly, actor and director Willie Longmore explained how the Octagon had provided him with two of his of his most treasured acting experiences, My Children! My Africa in the Studio in 1995 and I Just Stopped By To See The Man in the main house ten years later.

The Octagon has always been renowned for providing high quality theatre whilst remaining loyal to the community it serves. In 1999 the theatre had a funding crisis and was threatened with closure as a producing house. Thankfully the widespread support for the theatre meant that the ‘Save the Octagon’ campaign was a success, allowing this gem to reach its 40th birthday in excellent health and to continue to be, in the words of Executive Director John Blackmore, “a unique theatre with a unique space and vision.”

So, how does the Octagon intend to spend its Anniversary? Well, as you’d expect, the forthcoming season reflects the variety and quality of the last 40 years, with nine fantastic plays, including five world premiers.

Reflecting that commitment to its northern roots, the Octagon will host a new production of Jim Cartwright’s Road and will also feature the premiere of Blake Morrison and Northern Broadsides’ Lisa’s Sex Strike, a new take on Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, reset in a modern day milltown.

More local flavour comes from Bolton University lecturer and Wanderers fan Les Smith, who has co-written And Did Those Feet, ‘a comedy with teeth and a few tears,’ which recalls a trip to Wembley for Bolton Wanderers. And the theatre’s popular run of musical productions continues with Just A Gigolo, a new show by Mark Davies Markham of Taboo fame (that’s the Boy George musical, not the drink) in which Bolton is re-imagined as New Orleans.

Other highlights of the birthday programme include Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War, Boltonian Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine and Tanika Gupta’s Meet the Mukherjees, which puts an Asian twist on Meet the Fockers. And, happily, the Octagon will continue their tradition of offering a quality alternative to panto with Neil Duffield’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

So, it’s right what they say about 40: the last four decades have been a blast, but it looks like the Octagon is just reaching its prime.

Octagon (Howell Croft South, Bolton. 01204 520661 www.octagonbolton.co.uk). New Season runs from Sep 07 to Jul 08

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