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.

Summer Holiday

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Marking the 1st of several site-specific productions as part of the Octagon’s Out and About Season while the theatre undergoes an exciting redevelopment, Summer Holiday based on the 1963 film starring Cliff Richard and The Shadows is a joyful, uplifting and enormously inventive production.

Telling the familiar story of Don (Michael Peavoy) his buddies and their exciting escapades on a double-decker bus round Europe, Summer Holiday is brought to life on the streets of Bolton in the most imaginative and innovative of ways as audiences are taken on an immersive journey filled with an infectious soundtrack delivered by a cast who literally burst with talent.

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The ambitions and brilliantly executed production directed by Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti starts with an opening scene in Bolton’s new bus interchange, as the crowd gathers the action begins. Audiences are then invited to join the cast on a fine fleet of big blue buses for a sing-a-long journey through the streets of Bolton over to Victoria Square where we find musical trio Do-Re-Mi, who soon decide to ditch their clapped out Mini and come along for the ride as together both cast and audience make their way towards the Octagon theatre for the remainder of the performance. The ambitious multi-site staging works wonderfully, it really does feel like an exciting adventure we’re all invited on and flows beautifully.

As the cast leave England behind there are scrapes and shenanigans, hilarious highs and luckily limited lows as this feel-good musical delivers fun with a capita F. One final addition on the adventure is American stowaway Barbara (Eleanor Brown), a highly talented pop star who simply can’t take any more of her pushy mother’s melodrama, inexperienced at life she soon finds her feet and the glorious gang is complete.

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Summer Holiday is undeniably an ensemble production with many of the songs sung by Cliff in the film delivered as group numbers allowing for the most sublime of harmonies as the actor-musicians work their way effortlessly through a jaw-dropping array of instruments. Classic and catchy, the show is chock full of hits including The Young Ones, Bachelor Boy, Living Doll and of course title track, Summer Holiday, each and every one delivered to perfection by the hard-working, multi-talented cast who stay in character from start to finish, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments throughout the entirety of the show.

Michael Peavoy and Eleanor Brown as Don and Barbara make for a fine pairing as cupid comes calling, but the ensemble feel of this piece doesn’t stop with just the soundtrack as love strikes all over the Bolton bus in the most wonderful and heart-warming of ways.

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Special mention must go to Barbara Hockaday as ever-demanding Stella, Barbara’s pushy mother and Greg Last as Jerry, agent to Barbara and eternally at the beck and call of the force of nature that is Stella. The pair are outrageously funny and bounce off each other brilliantly, as for their Latino inspired busking scene, well it’s worth the ticket price alone!

Summer Holiday is a feel-good theatre at its absolute finest, bursting with life and boundless energy it is a joyful journey through the beautiful heart of Bolton that will thrill young and old alike. Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman wanted to inspire audiences to join the Octagon theatre on the road as the redevelopment begins, if this is a taste of things to come then sign me up for a season ticket!

On until Saturday 23rd June, tickets available here.