A look back at the Octagon's 2016

A look back at the Octagon's 2016

With a world premiere, an indoor beach, lots of rain, and 80 young people creating a full-scale production, it has been such a memorable 365 days here at the Octagon.


The new year started with a play that was all about people. People in their extraordinary, and ordinary, everyday lives. It was the return of Jim Cartwright's Two, which explores the strength of human spirit - something stronger than anything on offer behind a pub bar. 

Directed by David Thacker, in partnership with the University of Bolton, and starring Colin Connor and Katy Cavanagh, Two followed the loves of a pub landlord and lady.


Very excitingly, Two was followed by a world premiere! Two 2, also written by Jim Cartwright, picks up the story where Two left off. Time has passed, as it does, but the punters of the pub are now few and far between.

Colin Connor and Katy Cavanagh again took up the roles of the now struggling landlord and lady who, at odds with other, just about hold it together one shift at a time. An emotional but hilarious piece, Two 2 was a highly enjoyable and captivating sequel.


In March, we and Hull Truck Theatre produced Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis as a co-production, directed by Mark Babych. Having premiered at the Octagon Theatre in 1999, Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis was received with critical acclaim.

Heartfelt, poignant, and funny in equal measure, this production captured the glimmer of promise and potential that lies in all of us – shining a spotlight on the opportunities that are out there, if only we chose to take them.

It is also the production that snowed indoors, with one staff member claiming that the final scene made you feel as if you were in a joyous snow globe!


In April, we teamed up with Derby Theatre for another co-production, this time directed by Sarah Brigham. 2016 marked the 60th anniversary of Look Back in Anger, John Osborne's seminal play about Jimmy Porter, who embodies the frustrations of a generation of working class men, yearning for something they never had.

This incredibly powerful play has changed the way theatre presents working class voices on stage. Famously, it has coined the phrase ‘angry young men’ to describe an entire generation of disillusioned artists and working class young men in post-World War Two British society.


Our inaugural REVEAL festival saw creativity, ingenuity and imagination come to the fore from lots of local and emerging theatre-makers.

Presenting work inside in the Octagon's Studio, online, and outside, we saw productions take place in a car park, a pub, a dressing room, and a cafe, as well as enjoying a promenade piece that took audience members through the very heart of Bolton town centre. An online piece explored how theatre can be made more accessible for those of older generations.

Tackling big issues, such as the pressures on the NHS (Rounds, Resuscitate Theatre) and bulimia (Joy Unspeakable, Amy Hailwood), REVEAL showcased new and original work that packed a punch in a new and original way.  


Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the work was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre.

The event saw around 1400 voluntary participants dressed in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK. We're proud to say that Octagon Theatre Bolton was one of 27 organisations which collaborated on the work, alongside LeftCoast (Blackpool), Oldham Coliseum, Royal Exchange Theatre and Storyhouse (Chester)


In June, it rained. In fact, it rained a lot considering Bolton was in the middle of a scorching summer heatwave. It's just that this rain was actually coming down indoors!

Joyous, colourful, and stunning, this production made every member of staff here at the Octagon feel the happiness and love that theatre can bring - and we hope you as audience members felt that too.

Directed by Elizabeth Newman, the cast of twelve really displayed their talents by dancing, singing, and playing instruments all while getting caught in a downpour. 


The Secret Garden was a full-scale production with a difference - it was produced and acted by a group of over 80 young people from the community! 

Inspiring everyone here at the Octagon, this amazing group of 80 young people worked with imagination, enthusiasm, and passion, learning from a team of professional actors and our Artistic Team, to bring the beloved story of The Secret Garden to life on stage. 


The August bank holiday saw the Bolton Food and Drink festival welcome thousands of people to the town centre. It also saw 8,000 people visit our theatre for our seaside Pleasure Beach! 

Complete with sand, water, coconut shys and donkeys, families came to get their face-painted, create their own beach-themed arts and crafts, paddle, build some sandcastles, and chomp on a bit of candy floss.


In September, the auditorium floor was covered in sand once again, but this time it was the burnt orange sand of Maycomb, Alabama. Audiences were transported into the world of Scout Finch, and were made to feel like both residents of Alabama and jury members with Elizabeth Newman's direction and Amanda Stoodley's clever set design.

A cast of 14 adult actors and a cast of 6 young actors, who worked in two teams, told Harper Lee's poignant and profound tale of Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem, and Tom Robinson. During Atticus' closing speech in the courtroom scene, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium.

We also held a special Investigate Day for To Kill a Mockingbird, in which three newly commissioned pieces of work were presented and a panel discussion took place to examine the questions and issues that this powerful story explores.


In October, we again teamed up with the University of Bolton, this time to stage one of Shakespeare's most moving plays. Directed by David Thacker, The Winter's Tale had a cast of 15 adult actors and two young actors and has one of the memorable stage directions of all time: "Exit pursued by a bear".

This profound drama, both tragedy and comedy, had audience members laughing and crying, both in despair and with joy - especially with its unusual but emotional ending. And with that extraordinary climax, The Winter's Tale heralded a winter of content here at the Octagon.


In November, the cast of The Winter's Tale were joined by more actors for a two day celebration of the work of one of the greatest playwrights of all time, hosted by the Octagon Theatre and the University of Bolton.

With talks from lecturers and specialists from the University of Bolton, discussions with eminent Shakespeare scholar Richard Wilson, a screening of Measure for Measure directed by David Thacker, and a whirlwind tour of all of Shakespeare's work, this celebration provided deep insight into the history, culture, politics, and emotional life of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. 


November saw the winners of our first ever National Octagon Prize announced. We received a wealth of entries, and the three winners will see their work produced at the Octagon with professional actors in 2017. Read more about Ian Townsend, Charlotte Josephine, and Shauna Mackay here. You can come along to watch them too, check out the details here.


The 2016 festive show, which also joyfully brings in the New Year, is Cinderella - with a twist! The favourite fairy-tale has been adapted by award-winning children's writer Mike Kenny, where we hear the story as told from the perspectives of the rats.

The cast of 6 very talented actors have taken on the roles of the mischievous rats, the human beings in Cinderella's world, and the down-to-earth Cinderella herself. They are always singing, playing an unusual musical instrument such as the vibraphone, and interacting with audiences. Directed by Ben Occhipinti, this production is all about friendship that lasts forever.

We have been told that audience members have felt so engaged in the story, that they have even asked Cinderella if she is okay when she is sad, offered to give Cinderella hugs, and have encouraged the Prince to ask again for Cinderella when he visits the house of Cinderella, her sisters and her step-mother!

Now the new year is upon us, and we're looking forward to a brand new adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (based on the novel by Anne Bronte), a brand new musical I Capture The Castle and a brand new play Winter Hill, among other exciting productions and projects. Join us in 2017 for more fun, love, laughter, and memories!