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.

 

Interview | Michael Peavoy & Eleanor Brown talk Summer Holiday

The Octagon Theatre Bolton is all set for a spectacular summer of joyful adventure as they bring a very special site-specific production of the classic 1960’s feel good musical, Summer Holiday to life.

Telling the story of Don and his buddies as they leave a wet and miserable England behind to head to Europe for a summer of adventure on a double-decker bus, Summer Holiday is an up-lifting celebration of friendship and most importantly fun. There are ups and downs, scrapes and shenanigans and even an American stowaway picked up for the ride.

Co-directed by the Octagon Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman and associate director Ben Occhipinti the production will begin at Bolton’s new interchange before audiences board double-decker buses for a thrilling musical journey ending with a final stop at the Octagon theatre where Don and his pals fun-filled escapades across Europe will conclude in a wonderful celebration of music, friendship and all out adventure.

We caught up with cast members Michael Peavoy  (who plays Don in the production) and Eleanor Brown (who takes on the role of Barbara) during rehearsals to hear a little more about this highly anticipated production which sees the traditional London setting seen at the start of the original film relocated to the familiar streets of Bolton.

Michael explained, “It’s a piece of theatre in Bolton, for Bolton, what happens around the show and the audience watching will influence and be a part of what makes each and every show special. Even in a regular theatre space, unexpected things happen and you’ve always got to be alive to that, it’s what makes going to the theatre so exciting, I guess when you’re doing that outside of a traditional theatre space it makes it even more exciting and unpredictable and so so much fun.”

Both Michael and Eleanor are enormously excited about the unique staging of this innovative production. Eleanor said “We’re so excited, we’ve been out to the interchange to see where the performance space will be it made us realise that while we’ll be performing the interchange will still of course be open and functioning as normal so the people of Bolton will be wandering round and seeing what we’re doing, which will be really, really lovely.” Eleanor added, “The unexpected is the best thing about theatre and with this production we can absolutely expect the unexpected along with a whole lot of fun.”

Eleanor describes her character as ‘a product of the American pop world’. She is desperate to experience real life, she feels her life is orchestrated and engineered by her pushy mother, escaping from her oppressive upbringing she becomes a stowaway on the bus disguising herself as a young boy in order to avoid detection, we then see her go on a real journey, experiencing life and love to the fullest.

In describing Don, the character made famous by Cliff Richard in the 1963 film, Michael defines him as ‘a working class dreamer, who just wants to take his mates on a holiday, he’s a fixer-upper and a problem solver’. Don goes on a similar journey to Barbara, Michael explained there’s so much more to Don, “He really doesn’t know what love is, he’s lived in the generation where people would say things like ‘boys don’t cry’ while maintaining a stiff upper lip, I think he’s fighting against that, he recognises that there’s a big world out there, he’s carrying round the baggage of his family and their ideals for him but he’s really ready to break out of that.”

The cast are now deep into rehearsals with just two weeks until opening night. In reflecting on the process so far Michael explained, “Every single day is just fun and joyful, the music is amazing, the cast are fantastic, all so talented, everyone is just brilliant; we’re all so excited about doing this show. It has a real community feel about it, usually we get to the stitzprobe and that’s when we meet the band but we’ve got live music right from the start from the cast on stage in this production. It’s like you’re in a rock band for a few hours, then you’re in a jazz band for a few hours, then you’re in a musical, it’s awesome.”

Alexander Bean, Michael Peavoy, Barbara Hockday, Luke Thorn and David Heywood -Summer Holiday rehearsal photos taken by Ray%

Eleanor agrees “We are having the absolute best time, the core of the story is the same but there’s some differences in our production, there’s a lot more music in the show, I think there’s something so special about having the music played live, I think it’s something audiences will really, really enjoy.” Michael added, “While the film was a real vehicle for Cliff back in the 60’s and he did large parts of the singing alone, our stage production changes those songs so they become much more ensemble pieces, with different cast members playing instruments as well as singing, it makes for a really beautiful sound and give a real community feel to the piece.”

Summer Holiday featuring classic songs such as Bachelor BoyLiving DollThe Young Ones and, of course, the title track Summer Holiday opens at the Octagon theatre, Bolton on Thursday 31st May and runs until Saturday 23rd June tickets available here.

*Photo credit Ray Jefferson, Bolton Camera Club

Winter Hill

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Set on Bolton’s iconic Winter Hill, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play explores what could happen if corporate greed was allowed to take over the town’s beloved moorland and the effect of this on a group of feisty local women, not yet ready to bow down to might of the developers. Transforming their reading-group into a powerful political statement where revolution, resistance and rebellion take centre stage the ladies occupy the part-built sky-scraping hotel as they declare themselves to be “Women Against Erection”.

The play is delivered in a series of flashbacks, present day sees Emma (Fiona Hampton) daughter of activist Dolly (Denise Black) meeting with some of the women who occupied the building with her mother to find out the truth about what actually happened that day.

Winter Hill is a real ensemble piece with clear and witty narrative and a cast any production would be thrilled to have, it’s a joy to see such talented female actresses under one roof. Denise Black, is superb as the gutsy and fearless Dolly, she is determined to safeguard the future of Winter Hill for the generations to come to enjoy and explore as she did. Souad Faress takes on the role of Vivian; somewhat mysterious in her background she is quietly confident and utterly committed to the cause. Janet Henfrey delivers a fine performance as wheelchair bound Felicity, weak of body but strong of mind she offers sharp and witty observations of the world as she sees it. Louise Jamerson’s Beth is less revolutionary than her friends but her loyalty to them soon sees her understanding more their reasons for resistance. Attempted voice of reason is local councillor Irene (Cathy Tyson) calm and rational she attempts to talk the ladies out of their action but you can’t help think she like the rest of the Council has been dazzled by the investors as she attempts to justify their approval of the monstrous hotel despite the fact the promised school and social housing seem to have been long forgotten now the developers have moved in.

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Resident Octagon artistic director Elizabeth Newman has delivered a thought-provoking and quality piece of drama, this all female cast shine as they strive to decide what makes a heroine and eventually realise that if they are going to be heroines then they will be heroines for humanity, a sentiment that really strikes a chord in the current unsettling political climate. This is a passionate and spirited piece as we see the underdog fight to make a difference, the women are tired of being suppressed and will go just as far as they need to make sure their voice is heard. They declare that the bullies “…don’t come with machine guns but power points and plans” as they unite to show just how strong and important people power can be, a relevant and powerful reminder to us all.

On at the Bolton Octagon until Saturday 3rd June tickets available here https://octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/winter-hill/