The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Bolton

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in 2011 the Octagon theatre commissioned a team of writers to rework L. Frank Baum’s classic tale; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Led by Elizabeth Newman the team created an entirely new and uniquely Bolton adaptation. Now in 2018 it’s time to treat audiences again to their distinctively Northern and delightfully brilliant version of the much-loved story.

While the Octagon undergoes its current refurb the action takes place at the impressive University of Bolton stadium, with the stage and auditorium giving off the wow factor the minute you enter. The setting may be different but the characters and familiar elements are all here in this inventive and entertaining adaptation.

Dorothy is a streetwise and self-assured teenager who lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, life is tough when you have holes in your shoes and your family don’t realise just how important having the latest trainers is. It gets even tougher when she suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself in the mysterious land of Oz after a freak cyclone hits Bolton.

The ruby slippers in this modern adaptation become light up high-tops; the yellow brick road a hand-held sat nav and the wonderful Wizard (played brilliantly by Matthew Ganley) is a Wiganer who is homesick for a decent pie.

Anne O’Riordan makes for a fabulous Dorothy, determined to find her way home she is a highly skilled storyteller and a charismatic performer, she beautifully engages both young and old as we will her to succeed in her mission.

David Heywood plays the not-so-stupid Scarecrow with great style; warm and witty he jumbles his words hilariously yet somehow makes perfect sense, proving there are much more important qualities than having a high IQ.

Thom Petty is a kind and caring Tin Man, full of heart and love, while Alexander Bean’s Brummie Lion shows true bravery lies in the courage of conviction as he rallies to protect his friends in the face of danger.

The well written script complete with original score and songs from Barbara Hockaday and Rob Hiley entertains from start to finish. The modern edge bringing the story bang up to date and delivering an important message of friendship, bravery, courage and being true to yourself.

The Octagon once again succeeds in bringing great quality feel-good theatre to Bolton. Ben Occhipinti’s direction is slick and engaging, ensuring the cast make full use of the expansive stage and auditorium, much to the delight of the little ones watching who if they’re lucky might just get a high-five off the Cowardly Lion or even see the Scarecrow take a moment to sit down beside them.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is fabulous family entertainment, inventive, fun and perfect for the festive season.

On at the University of Bolton Stadium until December 31st tickets available here.

Gulliver’s Travels

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Gulliver’s Travels marks the Octagon theatre’s final production of their 50th Anniversary Season and does so in gigantic style.

Taking in several locations within Bolton’s beautiful Queen’s Park including the sunken garden, the amphitheatre and the lake, Gulliver (Michael Peavoy) and daughter Betty (Anne O’Riordan) take us on a magical adventure through the colourful land of Lilliput.

Jonathan Swift’s novel has been adapted by Satinder Chohan and Mike Kennedy ensuring Gulliver is Bolton through and through; desperate to please his daughter Betty, Gulliver’s tall tale soon lands him in trouble as his adventure takes on an unEGGspected turn!

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Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s creative direction sees audiences follow the action through various settings within the park making for a very unique and interactive theatrical experience. Lead cast members, Michael Peavoy, Anne O’Riordan, Alexander Bean and Marc Small do an excellent job of sharing their story far and wide so every audience member feels involved; with some great fun audience participation along the way, particularly during the celebrations at the Lilliputan Palace. The cast are also joined by a whole host of talented performers ranging from local children to community choirs to help give this ambitious project a real community feel.

This inspired production is without doubt a lot of fun, young and old will enjoy the adventure round the stunning settings within Queen’s Park with their bold colours and striking design. The Gulliver puppet, the largest puppet in the UK is a spectacular sight and will certainly wow audiences young and old.

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The cast are engaging and their exceptional storytelling skills really do make you feel part of the ride. The story is very stripped down and does lose a little momentum during the location changes, this would probably have less impact for smaller audiences but for last night’s large audience the time it took to manoeuvre between each scene impacted a little on the flow and pace of the piece. That said Gulliver’s Travels is an up-beat and vibrant adventure with the atmosphere soon returning once you’ve arrived at the next location.

Top Tip – With quite a lot of moving around the park during this outdoor production picnics/refreshments would be best enjoyed before the show or during the interval and forget the bulky camping chairs, a picnic blanket will be much easier to transport, you’re not in one location long enough to get uncomfortable so can move from scene to scene easier.

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The Octagon Theatre succeeds again in creating accessible and engaging theatre. Gulliver’s Travels although slight in story detail is a hugely entertaining production; there are egg wars, incredible feats of bravery and even a chance to sing the Lilliputian national anthem. A visually captivating piece and EGGstremely good fun for all the family!

Catch Gulliver’s Travels at Queen’s Park until Monday 27th August tickets available here.

Casting News | Gulliver’s Travels

untitled-1The Octagon Theatre has announced the cast for their exciting retelling of Swift’s classic novel Gulliver’s Travels, which can be seen in Bolton’s Queens Park from 16th to the 27th August.

The lead role will be played by a giant puppet of Gulliver which will stand at a whopping 8m tall and is currently being constructed by Handmade Parade in Hebden Bridge. Joining the incredibly impressive puppet will be the familiar faces of Michael Peavoy, Robert Jackson and Alexandar Bean all most recently seen in the Octagon’s critically-acclaimed site-specific production Summer Holiday, as well as Anne O’Riordan who previously appeared in the Octagon’s 2016 festive show Cinderella.

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Throughout the production the cast will be joined by young performers and community companies culminating in the final scene that brings together local choirs from across Bolton in an exciting community collaboration. Various locations across Queens Park while be used in the production including the sunken garden, the duck pond and the amphitheatre which will be transformed into the magical land of Lilliput with festoon lighting, flags and sailboats adorning the space.

Audiences will meet at the Chorley New Road entrance to Queens Park and are encouraged to bring picnics or buy catering on site in what Elizabeth Newman, Artistic Director at the Octagon theatre expects to be ‘a big spectacle – we hope lots of people will want to come along and celebrate the final production of our 50th Anniversary Season after the sell-out success of Summer Holiday and our most impactful season to date.’

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The production will be co-directed by Octagon Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti and showing on evenings Thu 16 – Mon 27 Aug at 7.15pm with a matinee performance on Sat 25 Aug at 2.15pm. Ticket prices from £12 – £15 and can be found here.