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

Hamlet

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Often described as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Director David Thacker’s Hamlet is relocated to a gently suggested Soviet Block with it’s marbled walls and leaders portraits, a nod also perhaps to the troubled political times we find ourselves living today.

Upon entering the theatre James Cotterill and Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set and lighting design looms large; making use of the full height of the Octagon it is dominant, multi-levelled and imposing. In the opening scenes at the funeral of Hamlet’s father we quickly get an idea of the style of this production, beautifully and dramatically lit, scenes change at a pace from bright and bold to soft and brooding.

Hamlet Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Taking on the title role is the hugely impressive David Ricardo-Pearce, the tragic Prince, torn away from his studies abroad to a kingdom in turmoil, his Uncle taking not only the throne from Hamlet’s dead father but also Hamlet’s own mother to be his new bride. Overcome with confusion and grief the haunting sight of his dead father’s ghost sends Hamlet further into the depths of despair as he strives to find clarity in a world he feels increasingly uncertain.

Ricardo-Pearce delivers the multi-layered prince with conviction, playful yet proud, intense and sardonic. He takes of the task of avenging his father’s murder with fervour as he struggles to find an outlet for his grief, he is unflinching in his quest for retribution. At times addressing the audience directly, Ricardo-Pearce’s commitment to the role is exceptional as he questions, considers and confirms his plans.

Hamlet 1

The supporting cast are equally as impressive. Jessica Baglow captivates entirely as the broken and grief-stricken Ophelia, singing gently as she weeps for the loss of her love Hamlet and her father, her mind turns to madness. Eric Potts injects great humour amidst the intensity as the trusted Polonius while Brian Protheroe is impressive as the cold and composed Claudius. Marc Small makes for a loyal and committed Horatio while Michael Peavoy is a charismatic and dignified Laertes.

Thacker’s emphasis on the family tragedy of Hamlet reaps dramatic rewards, with the delivery of the script some of the clearest I’ve seen, this Hamlet is accessible and gripping, it feels fresh and inspired with the cast working together perfectly to deliver and engaging and enormously entertaining piece of theatre.

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

A great Hamlet of course rests enormously on the lead, Ricardo –Pearce succeeds entirely in involving the audience in his journey as we experience and feel not only Hamlet’s broken and disillusioned heart but his manic and mesmerising mind. Fast-paced, gripping and utterly compelling.

On at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.

Jane Eyre – Octagon Theatre

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

170 years on from first publication, Janys Chambers and Lorna French’s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre proves the story of trailblazer Jane is as inspiring and as captivating as ever.

Telling the story of an orphan girl and baring striking similarities to Brontë’s own life, Jane Eyre is an arresting account of battling through monumental challenges at a time when women were largely seen but not heard. Northerner Jane (Jessica Baglow) is taken in by her Uncle after the tragic death of her parents, much to the disgust of his cruel wife, Jane’s Aunt, Mrs Reed (Claire Hackett). Mrs Reed promises to raise Jane as her own, yet sadly subjects her to a childhood of misery and abuse which both Jane’s aunt and cousins revel in. Aged just 10 she is sent off to Lowood, a boarding school for orphaned girls, where she continues to experience a cruel and enormously unforgiving life at the hands of school tyrant Brocklehurst who delights in mistreating and humiliating his subjects. Despite this intolerable life, Jane makes a great friend in Helen Burns, a fellow pupil, tragedy however lingers close by as Jane suffers more heart-breaking loss.

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Jane eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood but after two years yearns for change and adventure; she advertises herself as a Governess and is summoned to Thornfield Hall where Jane is granted the position and takes on the responsibility of educating Edward Rochester’s (Michael Peavoy) French ward Adele. As we see the developing friendship between Jane and Rochester build strange and unexplained happenings within the hall begin to occur risking both the safety and the future of the entire household.

The small cast take on multiple roles with each and every actor delivering clear and intelligent characterisation; the additional young company shine, particularly Jasmine De Goede and Coco Jones as young Jane and Adele respectively. Staged in the round, director Elizabeth Newman ensures the focus of this piece lies entirely upon the talented cast on stage. Full use is made of designer Amanda Stoodley’s cage like frame and the full height of the Octagon theatre is used to great effect when paired with Chris Davey’s dynamic lighting which creates and changes atmospheres beautifully.

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The production feels bold and inspired as the pace dances swiftly through Jane’s early childhood to adult life. Baglow makes for an enormously charismatic Jane, strong of spirit, intelligent and witty, her search for fulfilment strikingly pure, she remains fiercely true to herself as painful as this may be. Convincing and confident Baglow embodies Jane superbly.

Michael Peavoy plays the brooding Rochester to Baglow’s Jane, he is forceful and intense in his attempts to get to know Jane who greets her masters unique ways with intelligence and smart humour, proving Jane to be an equal to Rochester in mind if not in stature. Peavoy’s ability to switch from deeply intense to light and playful perfectly embodies the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul. There is an endearing playfulness between the two as their complex relationship grows and develops you find yourself willing for these two damaged hearts to heal each other.

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Leah Walker as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ is creatively delivered, making exceptional use of the Octagon’s intimate space and designer Amanda Stoodley’s innovative staging.

Writers French and Chambers focus more on the humour within the novel in this production than any I’ve seen previously making for an innovative and fresh feel, allowing audiences to see Brontë’s characters perhaps differently than in previous incarnations. The pace is quick and sometimes the emotional depth is brushed over in favour of humour, it is none the less an enormously engaging and entertaining production. The focus feels less on Jane’s need for liberty and adventure and more on her relationships and longing to feel loved. Her search to create her own unique family, something she never had is heart-warming as she bids to prove she is loveable and equal in heart and mind to Rochester when society would deem her beneath him. Jane is a woman of enormous character, who is tested to the point of almost betraying herself entirely but her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her. Bolton Octagon once again succeeds in creating engaging, relevant and inspiring theatre.

Jane Eyre on at the Octagon until Saturday 10th February tickets available here.