Beryl

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The sport of cycling is currently in the midst of a golden age here in the UK.  Through their exploits at the Olympics and the Tour du France, cyclists such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Laura Kenny (was Trott) have become household names and an  inspiration to thousands of people across the land. However, way before any of these came along, Britain had Beryl Burton and Beryl was every bit a hero as these fine riders.

Beryl is the fascinating true story of a strong independent Yorkshire lass, who  refused to be beaten and did things her way. She won countless championships, set records, broke records, and managed to stay at the top of her game for 25 years. 

Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Vicky Binns bring Beryl to life, with Longhurst as the child Beryl who contracts St Vitus’s Dance aged 10. The illness caused a weakening of the heart and a loss of control of the limbs. The infection saw the young girl confined to hospital for nine months, as well as having a huge impact on her confidence. 

When she leaves school, Beryl meets Charlie Burton (Chris Jack), a local lad with an interest in cycling. Charlie’s passion becomes Beryl’s obsession and soon she is competing in races, first at county level,  then nationally, and inevitablycompeting at the cycling world championships, all this whilst holding down a full time job and raising a family. 

At first glance this is the classic underdog story we are so familiar with, but dig a little deeper and you couldn’t be further from the truth. This woman was always going to be a success through hard work, guts, determination and sheer bloody mindedness: success was never in doubt.  Maxine Peake’s script is a love letter to this unique, amazing lady filled with warmth, humour and plenty of charm. It ditches the usual sporting clichés in favour of celebrating its subject and having fun.

Under the excellent direction of Kimberley Sykes, the cast of four are in fine form, injecting plenty of spirit into the production and all showing a gift for comedy. Vicky Binns puts in a strong, feisty turn as the adult Beryl  she really gets to the heart of what spurs her on. 

Chris Jack is equally fine as Charlie, turning in a warm, heartfelt performance as the devoted Charlie. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is clearly having fun as the young Beryl and later Beryl’s daughter Denise: her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Finally, Matthew Heywood plays pretty much every other character in the play including an overzealous German fan and a rather dour Yorkshire copper. Heywood like his fellow cast members puts a great comedic performance.

All four should be commended for their work as this is a physically demanding show, with lots (and I do mean lots) of cycling, think a spin class with a plot and you’re on the right track! As each cast member dart about the theatre and hop on the strategic placed bikes around the theatre you become immersed in their world.

There is very much a ‘punk’ vibe to the production, cast members often break the fourth wall, coming out of character to address the audience and each other. The use of contemporary pop songs despite not being of that era, and the cast’s DIY approach to special effects creating their own inclement weather using a leather blower and some water pistols give the production a carefree, easy going charm.

This is an inspirational story delivered in a funny, touching but never sentimental fashion. Old and young alike will find something to admire about the show which will certainly leave you wanting to find out more about Beryl and her extraordinary achievements, whilst it may inspire you to dig out your Raleigh Chopper from the shed. Beryl’s story is ripe for a silver screen adaptation so catch it Bolton whilst you can.

Beryl is at the Bolton Library and Museum till the 19thOctober. Tickets available here.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

While the Octagon Theatre undergoes an extensive refurbishment the company are performing in various venues across the town, one of the most impressive and merely a stones throw from the theatre itself is the beautiful Albert Halls. Part of the Town Hall the impressive Albert Halls acts as a perfectly fitting backdrop for Oscar Wilde’s much-loved Victorian comedy.

Our two protagonists, the dashing upper class cad Algernon (Jack Hardwick) and the seemingly more upstanding Jack Worthing (Dean Fagan) lead double lives in a bid to have some fun away from the strict social constraints of Victorian Britain whilst attempting to court the affections of headstrong City girl Gwendolen (Elizabeth Twells) and pouting country princess Cecily (Melissa Lowe) all of course to the distasteful displeasure of the domineering Lady Bracknell (Sarah Ball).

The play moves at a good pace once you get used to the slightly echoey acoustics within the lofty Albert Halls; Director Suba Das and designer David Woodhead have injected a real sense of style into this production. The stage resembles a photographer’s studio giving the cast opportunities to strike a pose and wink knowingly at the audience during some of the most quotable lines while the production opens with catwalk style vogueing from the cast by way of introduction.

Confusion and deception are the order of the day as we romp from the city to the countryside in this stylish interpretation. Jack Hardwick is exceptional as a flirty and flouncing Algernon. Hugely charismatic and convincingly charming you can’t help but root for this idle scamp. Dean Fagan’s contrastingly sensible Jack compliments Hardwick’s Algernon perfectly and the two bounce off each other offering some great comedy highlights.

Elizabeth Twells is in fine form as the determined Gwendolen. Strong and sassy she is a force to be reckoned with, the engagement scene is an absolute comedic delight while Melissa Lowe embraces the opportunity to play the brattish but ballsy Cecily with gusto.

There’s a slowing of pace during some of the scenes with Lady Bracknell, despite Sarah Balls’ authoritative performance some of her dialogue is lost due to the wordier nature of her lines in the expanse of the Albert Halls. The classic “A handbag?” however is delivered to perfection and gets the generous reaction it deserves.

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Vicky Entwistle and David Cardy as Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble bring an endearing frivolity to proceedings while Dan Shearer happily carries out his instructions as the put upon butler in various stages of undress.

Act I at more than an hour and a half does have the audience shifting in their seats a little while Act II at 35 minutes absolutely sails by, something a tweak or two could easily remedy.

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This stylish piece of theatre works and works well; it is fun, frivolous and delivered with a playful conviction. Another success for the Octagon Theatre in this faithful production dusted with a sprinkling of creative surprises.

Catch The Importance of Being Earnest at the Albert Hall until Saturday 15th June here.

 

 

 

The Last Yankee

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

UK theatre goers have seemingly been having an affair with the works of American writer Arthur Miller for decades now. The National Theatre has staged more productions of Miller’s plays than any other writer apart from Shakespeare, which is an impressive feat indeed.

Director David Thacker during his time as the Director of the Young Vic in London staged nine Arthur Miller plays seven of which he directed himself: one of these works The Last Yankee, was a huge commercial and critical success and now 26 years later Thacker reprises his role bringing the play to the impressive Bolton Library Theatre.

Set in an American psychiatric hospital, we are introduced to two married couples: Patty Hamilton (Juliet Aubrey) and her carpenter husband, Leroy Hamilton (David Ricardo-Pearce). We also have successful business man John Frick (Patrick Poletti) and his wife Karen (Annie Tyson). The two couples are polar opposites: the Hamilton’s have seven children and are just financially struggling to keep their heads above water. Whilst the Frick’s have no children yet a vast wealth at the disposal. Despite their differences the two couples have one thing in common, depression, anxiety and a self-loathing that threatens to not just wreck their marriages but destroy them individually as well.

Miller has crafted a near perfect fable of the chase for the American dream and how quickly it can go sour, whilst raising some important issues about mental health and its treatment. The script is measured and refreshingly low-key, the dialogue is terse and pulls no punches: there is nothing ‘showy’ or flash just an honest, gut wrenching account of a struggle that is becoming more and more prevalent in modern society with each passing day. Despite its weighty subject there is also a great deal of black humour adding a touch and of warmth and a much-needed respite from the drama.

The four leads are superb, the interactions between Poletti and Ricardo-Pearce in the first act sets the tone for the production, Poletti is solid as the snobbish know-it-all, yet clueless, Frick, whilst Ricardo-Pearce gives subtle, weathered performance as the blue collar all American.

Aubrey and Tyson are equally good as Patty and Karen, who’s unlikely friendship is the heartbeat of the production. Aubrey is captivating, filled with nervous energy, that is at times unsettling, whilst Tyson cuts a tragic figure and as the loveable Karen, a performance filled with whimsy and heartbreak in equal measure.

Thacker’s simple but effective directions works beautifully with Ciaran Bagnall’s intriguing set design: throughout performance we see a patient lying motionless in hospital bed, never mentioned or referred to, the proverbial elephant in the room and a damning critique of how we treat mental illness and our attitudes to mental health. This marries perfectly with the wall of mirrors back drop, distorting both perception and reality.

This is a thought-provoking essential production that despite its weighty subject is engaging and accessible, with the time flying by. A production that is superbly acted, powerful, and certainly a relevant message for our times: everything dramatic theatre should be.

The Last Yankee is at Bolton Library Theatre until 16th March tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Meet the cast of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Little Voice

The Octagon Theatre Bolton have celebrated their 51st birthday by announcing casting for their upcoming production of Jim Cartwright’s timeless comic tragedy in Bolton’s iconic Albert Halls.

The electrifying drama will be performed by a company of talented actors including Kate Elin-Salt who performed Little Voice in the Octagon Theatre’s acclaimed 2012 production. Further casting includes Sally George, Mark Moraghan, Ted Robbins, Sue Vincent and Akshay Gulati.

Little Voice escapes her dreary life through singing stunning impersonations of her favourite hits. In fear that her mother might blow a fuse, LV escapes in her attic room through her father’s old vinyl collection – she loves the great divas: Bassey, Garland, Piaf, Springfield, Holliday. Get ready for a stunning collection of hits including Big Spender, Over the Rainbow and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien performed live on stage.

Little Voice will be directed by Ben Occhipinti will run from Thu 24 January – Sat 2 February 2019 at the Albert Halls, Bolton as the Octagon’s town centre theatre undergoes a multi-million pound redevelopment. 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.’

Queens Park

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.