The Octagon Story

We tell stories brilliantly, and we make them here in Bolton.

MID BUILD (1967)
MID BUILD (1967)

Stories are at the heart of everything we do at the Octagon – from telling some of the greatest stories ever written on our stages to encouraging the young people we work with to tell stories of their own.

In this section we tell our story, from the tale of how it all began to how we produce and create the work you see on our stages today.

Setting the scene

We are a theatre situated in the heart of Bolton and believe in reaching out to all of the communities that surround us, and we strive to bring wonderful theatrical experiences to the people of Bolton and beyond.

Singin' in the Rain  - Credit Richard Davenport
Singin' in the Rain - Credit Richard Davenport

We lovingly bring stories to life on our stages designed to make you laugh, cry and sit on the edge of your seat. Over the course of a year, you might see a comedy or two, a brandnew play, a musical, thought-provoking drama, a historical retelling and more.

Off our stages, we help nurture and develop stories of others.  Through our work in the communities from our storytelling sessions for under 5s to our drama group for over 50s we believe everyone should have the opportunity to be creative. 

Once Upon a Time

At nearly 50 years old we were the first theatre to be built in the North West since World War One. Beginning as the brainchild of a university lecturer and a group of students to build a theatre for the people of Bolton, the Octagon was going to be a little bit different from the usual. 

"There was a sense of enormous achievement and a feeling that anything was possible, which was typical of the late 60s. The feeling behind the Octagon was to get everyone interested in the theatre."

Octagon founder, auditorium designer and Artistic Director (1967 – 1972), Robin Pemberton-Billing

 With amazing support from the local government, and the people of Bolton who helped raise funds brick by brick, our building was officially opened on 27 November 1967 by HRH Princess Margaret and we opened our doors for the very first time to begin our long journey of telling wonderful stories to the people of Bolton and beyond.

The first story on our stage was Annie And Fanny by Bolton playwright Bill Naughton. A new play written by a local playwright – this was an exciting start to the proud tradition we have held strong for 50 years of supporting new and local writing. New writing has always been an important part of the Octagon story as well as producing plays from some of the greatest playwrights throughout history.


The heart of our theatre from the day it was built, right up to the present, is our intimate and flexible Main Auditorium theatre space. It seats between 300 and 390 and unlike most theatres not only does the set change from production to production but the seating alters too and responds to the staging. Usually seen in three main configurations of in the round, end-on and thrust stage every time you come and see a show you will enjoy a totally different experience.

Throughout the years many changes have happened to the building and the work we do, from the creation of our Studio Theatre in 1987 to the inception of our participation programme which seeks to engage with communities across Bolton. We are continually looking to evolve and develop the work we create and most recently have announced funding for a major capital development of our building, where we will be seeking to not only improve our visitor experience but also the accessibility of our backstage areas and an improved provision for the young people we work with.

How the stories are brought to life

We believe in world-class theatre: made in Bolton. Most of our production work is delivered on-site and to facilitate this we have a large workshop where sets are constructed, a small sound engineering studio, a wardrobe department where all costumes are cut, fitted and sewn, and a prop store where furniture and smaller items are housed. The Octagon’s rehearsal space, The Lab, is where actors work under direction for about four weeks before transferring to our Main Auditorium when the production is ready for its opening performance. 

Backstage - Noises Off
Backstage - Noises Off

Sharing stories

We believe that everyone has a story to tell. Our community, participatory and education work is recognised as a benchmark both regionally and nationally. From a popular Youth Theatre programme to our work with young people with learning disabilities, to groups within our community partner Bolton at Home, we believe everyone has their own story and theatre can be an amazing tool in empowering and building the confidence in people to tell theirs.

“The Octagon has helped me increase my confidence and given me opportunities to get involved, learn, experience and meet many different people” 

Rory, young participant of the INDRA project.

Take a look at our Get Involved section to see the work we do today within our communities.

The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden