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.

 

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.

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

East Is East

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set in Salford in the 1970’s, East Is East is a powerfully sharp and deeply moving story of an Anglo-Pakistani family struggling to find their place not only in society but also within their own four walls.

Patriarch George (Kulvinder Ghir) rules his family with an iron fist, emotional torment and physical threats are his go to methods for gaining respect from his wife and his frustrated children who are desperate to make their own way in the confused world they’re struggling to make sense of.

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Mother Ella (Jane Hazlegrove) loves them fiercely and longs for her husband to love their children for who they are and allow them to explore the opportunities their Western lifestyle allows. The family is fractious and fraught as siblings squabble desperate for release from the pressure of their fathers imposed conformity.

Kulvinder Ghir is outstanding as George, warm and loveable one moment, seething with explosive anger the next. He takes George to breaking point with sensitivity and conviction. Ultimately a frightened man, lashing out at those he loves most due to his pride, his fears and his need for control.

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Jane Hazelgrove impresses as ballsy mum Ella, with a heart full of love for her children and a genuine loyalty towards husband George, her portrayal is believable and honest. The scenes between Ella and Auntie Annie (Claire Hackett) are playful and fun, putting the world to rights over a steaming hot brew being the order of the day.

Each of the children are well cast and deliver their differing roles convincingly, torn between love for their family and their desperation for their own identities they bicker and squabble yet love each other fiercely. This is an enormously talented ensemble cast each and every individual excels with special mention to Shila Iqbal as foul mouthed Meenah who shines as the sassy sole female of the siblings.

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Director Ben Occhipinti guides his cast beautifully ensuring Ayub Khan Din’s sharp script is delivered with maximum impact and perfect pace. The laughs which come thick and fast are perfectly interjected with dramatic action which stops you in your tracks, witty dialogue is interrupted by heart-breakingly poignant moments which silence and shock.

The production superbly explores themes of culture, identity, family and acceptance. It may be set in the 70’s but these themes still resonate strongly today. In our modern world with there’s often thinly veiled pretences at multiculturalism East Is East feels relevant, current and is an important story to tell. The laughs plentiful, are balanced beautifully with ‘hold your breath’ heart stopping moments of raw emotion in this slick and superbly delivered production. Sharp, honest and boldly brilliant.

On at the Octagon theatre until Saturday 14th April tickets available here.

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.

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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.