Monday, 29 October 2007

Oh What A Lovely War - What's Being Said....

Left to right: Matthew Kelly, Matt Rixon, John McArdle and Christopher Fry

Friday night was press night for Oh What A Lovely War. Not only that but there was also a surprise gathering for the Executive Director, John Blackmore, who has spent 40 years working in theatre so it was a double celebration.

It is a challenging piece and requires a cast of 13 that can sing, dance, play instruments as well as act and that is all while juggling a series of instruments, hats and characters at impressive speed which is an achievement in itself! We're getting some good reviews:

'In terms of sheer all-round achievement this is the best show I’ve ever seen at Bolton. The Octagon is very proud of its reputation as a regional theatre, but there is nothing provincial about this first-class production which would be a credit to a theatre anywhere in the country.'
UK Theatre Net

You can read the rest of the review from UK Theatre Net here. Other reviews I have found so far are:
  • The Bolton News here
  • The Stage here
  • Manchester Evening News here
  • The Guardian here
  • Lancashire Evening Post here

Friday, 26 October 2007

War photography

If you didn't come to see the production last night and can't wait until you do then have a look at some of Ian's lovely production images below!

Matthew Kelly as Field Marshall Haig

Men in uniform alert! Left to right: Jeff Hordley, Matt Rixon and John McArdle

If only army recruitment was still this glamourous. Left to right: Siena Lloyd, Ruth Alexander Rubin and Helen Power.

There are a few more on the website. Looks fantastic doesn't it? And if the pictures aren't enough you can read an interview with John McArdle here or watch him avoiding questions about his worst habits here....

War, huh, what is it good for?

Left to right: Jeff Hordley, Matthew Kelly and Matt Rixon.

In the words of the fabulous Joan Littlewood when asked why she wouldn't allow any of our main theatres to stage the show she replied 'I say to everyone: go and invent your own bloody show'.

Well, this time we didn't invent our own show, and Oh what A Lovely War opened last night to great success. You can read an article about Oh What A Lovely War in The Spectator (ooh get us!) here plus you can also read about what some of the cast have to say in the Bolton News article here.

More production images and reviews to follow as we receive them. But if you haven't already bought your ticket, and a lot of people have, you might want to ring Ticket Office (01204 520661) sharpish as they are selling like hot cakes - you have been warned!

Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets

Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets is a new musical production, commissioned by activ8 and Bolton Lads and Girls Club, and written by Mike Crowley.

Before the summer, over 100 young people took part in a range of idea-generating workshops led by writers and drama workers. Thirty of these participants were selected to form a company for the new play. This company of energetic young people worked intensively ovre two weeks of the summer to kick start the most ambitious piece of youth theatre ever created by the Octagon. You can read the diary of one of the participants here.

Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets will be a multimedia musical journey through past, present and future of Youth Culture in Bolton. There will be two performances (3.00pm and 7.30pm) that will take place on 17 November at the Bolton Lads and Girls Club and they promsie to be a spectacular celebration of, not only local talent but also the rich culture of Bolton.

Please support the young people of Bolton and book your tickets at the Octagon Ticket Office on 01204 520661.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

How do? How do? And how's that cup?

It seems due to this story in The Bolton News and its appearance in the final scenes of And Did Those Feet, the FA Cup we used in the show has become a celebrity in its own right.

The cast of And Did Those Feet with Gina Blackey and that cup! Image: The Bolton News

You can read the words associated with the image above here. During the run of the performance we have had people wanting to buy the cup; people climbing onto the stage at the end of the performance to touch the cup; in the true spirit of one of the themes of the play, a man has asked if he can hire it for his daughter's football themed wedding plus many wanting their photo taken with the cup including Dave Spikey. The cup asked if it could have its picture taken with the And Did Those Feet cast and the cast were very happy to oblige......

The Octagon's newly formed seven-a-side team proudly show off their trophy!

I am not sure yet what the future holds for the cup. What with celebrity appearances, all the press attention and photocalls, the last I heard it was thinking about whether to try and break Hollywood....and I guess if the cup doesn't make it then there is always Ebay!

Oh, oh oh, its a lovely Draw!

Illustration: Richard Foxton

So many apologies for the pun in the title for this post, I couldn't resist, but let me explain. Way back when we launched the Anniversary Season and put our fantastically good value (even if I do say so myself) Ruby Season Tickets on sale we included a Prize Draw for Season Ticket purchasers. Basically, all of those people that bought a Season Ticket between the end of April and mid-October were entered into the draw to win a pair of tickets to one of the Gala Nights we are hosting during the run of Oh What A Lovely War.

Last week, all the names of Season Ticket holders were put in a hat (it was a big hat as we have sold a fair few Season Tickets) and 5 lucky winners were drawn who will each receive 2 tickets.

And the winners are (drum roll please!) :

Mrs Judith Redfern (Bolton)
Mrs J Bunton (Warrington)
Mr P Fowles (Bolton)
Mr D Jackson (Bolton)
Mr P Coon (Warrington)

Congratulations to our winners - their invites have gone out in the post. If you know one of the above and fancy coming to our Gala night, then you might want to ask them nicely what they are doing with their 'guest' ticket.....

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Reviewer of the Month

Over at the Manchester Evening News website, a review of And Did Those Feet is one of the entrants for October's Reviewer of the Month. This was spotted and kindly posted by Joanna over the the Pleased Sheep Forum (Thanks Joanna!).

And Did Those Feet @ Bolton Octagon
Dyan Colclough

THE audience is taken back to a time before footballers became a brand and the game united a community not profit driven entrepreneurs. Bolton Wanderers inclusion in the 1923 FA Cup Final is central to this uplifting play, however its message extends to parallel other unifiers of community.

A few years earlier WWI saw the community waving off their ‘team’ of men folk to fight for King and Country. James Quinn and Susan Twist (Hilda & Alf) brilliantly evoke the full consequences for those left behind when family members paid the ultimate price for victory.

Chris Finch convincingly portrays the spirit of their son whose presence shows the futility of a lost generation.

The Government's failure to deliver its promise of, ‘A land fit for heroes,’ saw soldiers returning to unemployment and social problems.

Here unity is again explored through the energetic and optimistic Jim, (wonderfully characterised by Paul Simpson), who with fellow comrades, believes that Revolution is the way forward. While the likes of Jim are seeking political change others put their faith in the Lord.

Hayley Jane Standing is perfectly cast as Martha a steadfast member of a dwindling congregation whose church is gradually losing its unifying influence.

This is highlighted through the wedding of Martha and Ted (superbly played by Jeff Hordley) which coincides with the cup final and even the vicar, would prefer to spend the day at Wembley.

Bob's enlightening narrative of the team's history throughout the play (captivatingly revealed by Martin Barrass) provides the thread which binds the community to football and Bob's 200 mile walk to Wembley encapsulates the depth of commitment its players exacted from those they represented.

There is no doubting that the audience has its emotions thoroughly exercised throughout this play and leave the theatre as equally united as those Wanderers supporters of 1923.

This is achieved through the collaboration of excellent writing, and directing and faultless casting.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

And Did Those Feet - the reviews keep coming

If you haven't already seen these here are a few more reviews for And Did Those Feet:

This one over at Manchester Confidential

And another from UK Theatre Network

But isn't only the professional reviewers that seem to like this production. Over at Pleased Sheep Forum attenders have also been writing good things about the play. Thanks Fran!

I went to see the play today and wasn't surprised to discover all the brilliant reviews were spot on. It was a wonderful play, full of humour, pathos and Bolton pride and the audience were obviously loving it all the way through.

Quite a lot of the audience were pensioners and I could hear various comments being made around me in hushed whispers when something in the play had brought back memories of some kind. There were several things that stood out for me:

The humour, which was really well written and equally well acted. Jeff Hordley especially made me laugh, he has great comic timing and can raise a giggle just from an expression on his face, which can't be all that easy when your on a stage and not in front of a t.v. camera.

The feeling of family. Individual familes and the 'family' of football fans. They were all clearly defined, so that although you'd only just been introduced to them, in minutes, you felt you knew them, you could imagine their histories even though you never saw them played out. Although there were only five or six football fans visible on stage at the matches, surprisingly, it was easy to imagine them being surrounded by thousands more like them.

The pathos. Well, there were three characters who painted that picture for us, one of which of course, was Chris. I think one of the reviewers mentioned that words weren't really needed for you to feel that pathos coming from the stage, (or words to that effect), and how right they were. The first time we see Billy's ghost, (Chris) he is simply sat watching and listening to his mum as she 'talks to him', knowing in her heart that he's 'somewhere' listening to her and ( I think...) because she knows he's listening, she's trying hard to sound cheerful and hide her tears. It's very obvious that Billy is hurting 'for her' as he watches her, without a word being spoken.

Later, Billy has a scene with his dad, who is finding it harder to hide the loss he feels for his son and Billy tries to find a way to get through to his dad and help him cope. Played brilliantly by both Chris and James Quinn, it was one that made you hold your breath. (It's the one we get a tiny glimpse of on the Octagon site. I knew when I saw
that vid, I was going to love that scene and I wasn't wrong.)

So in just under two hours, they managed to make two families and their hopes, dreams and problems come to life, they made you laugh, made you feel guilty for laughing as they reminded you of how Billy should have been there to share it all, made you want to cry and made you damned glad Bolton won the cup that year!

Plus it seems readers of The Bolton News enjoyed the performance so much that they just to write in! You can see what they said here and here.

If you haven't seen it yet, then I must warn you that tickets have almost sold out. I am informed that there are a few seats left for the Wednesday matinee so call the ticket office now on 01204 520661.

Monday, 15 October 2007

An Evening With Adrian Mitchell

Doyen of performance poets, Adrian Mitchell has been delighting audiences with his work for over 50 years - he celebrated his 75th birthday recently. His pacifist politics are infused into his work, which despite deep political content, combines humour with pathos and warmth. You can listen to / read an interview with Adrian where he talks about his work here.

Mitchell is an active anti-war campaigner who has written about conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq. He famously said 'most people ignore poetry because poetry ignores most people' and has always therefore made his work accessible and relevant to people of all ages.

This exhilarating evening features some old favourites like Tell Me Lies About Vietnam, and some new works in which Mitchell rails against war, and celebrates peace. Weird, wonderful, sad and angry, the poems show that he has lost none of his political fire and humour. Here's a great piece of video footage of Adrian in action reading 'Tell Me Lies About Vietnam' at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall, London (1965). Enjoy!

Adrian will be performing at the Octagon on Thursday 1 November. Click here for more information or to book tickets.

Friday, 12 October 2007

A Real Crowd Pleaser

And Did Those Feet and The Octagon has received so much positive feedback that I am sure if the theatre was a person it would be blushing and/or puffing its chest out in a proud fashion. Not only have we had great reviews, and this recent acknowledgement but some lovely comments from our audience.

Here's a really nice email we have received from two very kind ladies:

From: Jill Brown

Sent: 08 October 2007

Subject: And did those feet

What a privilege to be at the Bolton Octagon tonight. We were gripped from beginning to end by the remarkable production and moving performances from the cast.

When we finally pulled ourselves together and left our seats, we both agreed that it was one of the best plays we had ever seen. For many years we have had Season Tickets for both Bolton and the Exchange, and also travelled to other venues - so we have seen quite a lot! This was very special.

I would be grateful if you could pass on our congratulations and thanks to the cast and company for such an excellent evening.

With best wishes

Jill Brown and Sue Cozens

It's always nice to get good reviews but for audiences to be so delighted with the performance is lovely. So thank you Jill and Sue for your very kind words.

David Jack (centre). Image supplied by: Bolton Archive Service

And in other more football focused news, I have had wind that the daughter of Mr David Jack himself (pictured above) may be coming to see a performance on the recommendation of her cousin who recently attended a performance. I wonder if I can ask her to count the mentions of her talented father during the production?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Rehearsals - Oh What A Lovely War

Oh What A Lovely War rehearsals are now in full swing. It's a big cast for us - you can see the full list here. Jason (the Lighting Designer on this show) has proved himself a bit nifty with a camera and managed to get a few photos of the cast in rehearsals.

' I don't want to be a soldier' I'd rather do the hokey cokey instead! The boys being put through their paces
(left -right: Shane Gould (assistant choreographer) David Westbrook, Christopher Fry, John McArdle, Simeon Truby and Matt Connor)

'Gassed last night'. All that dancing is obviously taking its toll. Either that or they are working on playing dead!
(clockwise from top: Nicola Bolton, Helen Power and Shane Gould (background), Matthew Kelly, John McArdle and Matt Rixon)

'Your king and country want you' and so does your Director. Mark and Conrad discuss military strategem and tactics!
(left - right: Mark Babych (Artistic Director) and Conrad Nelson (Director of A Christmas Carol and Lisa's Sex Strike)

'They were only playing leapfrog' Team bonding...with scripts!
(clockwise from top: Mark Babych (Artistic Director), Matthew Kelly, Jeff Hordley, Simeon Truby, Matt Rixon, David Westbrook and John McArdle)

'Hold your hand out you naughty boy'
(left - right: Beverley Edmunds (choreographer), Matt Connor and Simeon Truby)

Altogether now 'Oh it's a lovely war'
(Siena Lloyd (left) and Helen Power)

'Are we downhearted?' Obviously Mr Truby isn't!
(Simeon Truby)

Creative Partnerships

I have been sent a link to this blog. Daniel Bye, who writes about how he 'makes theatre, watches football and runs by the canal' has written this article about arts funding and he mentions partnership between the University of Bolton and the Octagon. Below is a snippet from the article:

I predict that companies working in intelligent partnerships with larger institutions, and with one another, is going to be the future. Witness the wonderful things being done between the Bolton Octagon and Bolton University. Masses of students are gaining experience in all departments of the theatre, the theatre has become an increasing part of its community, and audiences are up. Thanks to a generous initial investment from the University, the Octagon has been able to upscale its ambitions, and thanks to the spirit of friendship between the two the University has been able to trumpet all sorts of successes.

Read the full article here

Aww shucks its always nice to get a compliment but as he rightly points out none of this would have been possible without the support of the University. Okay this is beginning to stray into award acceptance speech material so I'll finish here.....

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The making of Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets

One of our Youth Theatre attenders, Jaymi Sulley (Thank you Jaymi!), has been keeping a diary on her involvement with their current project, the multi-media theatrical journey that is Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets. It gives future and wannabe activ8-ers a chance to see what goes on at the Youth Theatre, so if you would like to know what's involved, please read on.

Day One
Today was the first day at drama school. The main focus of the day was to get to know the cast and staff involved in our production.
When we arrived we all stood in a circle and had a ball which we threw and had to say the name of the recipient of the ball. We played a few more games and then sat down and got serious. We discussed the basic storyline of the performance and were split into groups to perform a little piece of the script.
I enjoyed making new friends and I also learnt how co-operation is a key role in your part of a production.

Day Two
I arrived at drama today with the fabulous news that I was going to be dancing for about four hours of my afternoon. I was more disappointed when I found out that half of my fellow production / cast team members were singing all morning. I suppose I have to make sacrifices to be a reliable member of the team. Although the dancing was a low point, I had a morning of acting ahead of me which was good ;) !

We all went off into groups and went over parts of the script and then acted it out in front of the rest of the group. After lunch we were greeted by a dance teacher (choreographer) who taught us all a dance. I didn't enjoy it much as I am naturally unable to dance, but after a long session it was worth the embarrassment as the dance was awesome.
Today I enjoyed working with new people and I learned that patience really is a virtue.

Day Three
Our turn to sing today and I was so glad! During our morning we were with Pete (the music producer alongside me) and we did basic vocal warm-ups, to get our voices ready, such as number chords. We basically said numbers as a chord with 1 being low and 8 being high but to confuse matters we had to go back down in chords e.g. 1,1,2,1,1,2,3,2,1....
After the warm up we got our song words for 'Let the great big world keep turning', learnt the chorus and when Pete thought we were good enough he made us sing solo. After all the fun of singing, we were placed with the group to continue with script reading.
Today I enjoyed the singing as I love singing. I learnt how I can use my voice to suit the basic style of the song. I also learnt a new song and vocal exercises.

Day Four
Today we arrived and played a few games and then we decided to do the Mill scenes, creating machinery and workers we put together a little routine that emphasises the mood / feel of the scene.
After we had produced the scene we performed it and it turned out great. Our afternoon was just a recap of what we had done during the week so far. We went through the dance and sang our songs. With any spare time we had to went through the script.

Day Five
We found out our parts today. I am a Millhand, Musical Dancer, a futuristic museum exhibit and a talent show performer! Because we didn't have a script for the talent show, we improvised a talent show. I was grouped and we decided to do a Spice Girl mick take! It was so much fun. Later on Ellie and Caz decided what type of music / talent they wanted to involve. This became my chance to out ideas down for what music and lyrics we need for each performance.

Day Six
Today was when we got down to the real business of rehearsals. As I am not a lead placement, I was given a large opportunity to rethink my ideas for the music and lyrics needed for the show. So far my ideas are quite blunt and amateur but as an amateur it is all that is expected of me!
So far though we have a heavy metal band, Exit Shikiri (which is a rip off of a current rock band named Enter Shikari), performing Sorry You're Not A Winner. I also have to do music and lyrics to the song that Wicked (an all girl pop combo so I am told - Ed) dance to. It's quite difficult as I can see them using a cheesy pop style song.

Day Seven
Today we went through the Mill scene and perfected it. We then watched everybody else do their scenes and all put forward ideas but Ellie did most of it.
During the time I had, I tried again to put some music beats together but it didn't work.

Day Eight
Today we did the same as yesterday...rehearsals, putting ideas forward and went through the dances, song and the talent show.

Day Nine
Again a whole day of run throughs with the main characters.....

I think that gives us a nice insight into the elements that make up a production and I am sure there is many an actor out there that feels the same as Jaymi about having to dance. I know Barrie Rutter does!
Millboys, Chavs and Space Cadets will be performed at Bolton Lads and Girls Club on Saturday 17 November with performances at 2.30pm and 7.30pm (performance times are subject to change).

Monday, 8 October 2007

Mundo Jazz - Audience Review

Seems that the recent performance by Mundo Jazz went down a storm. I have
received the following review from a member of the audience:

Mundo Jazz are a Marxist, Feminist Anti Capitalist, (well Anti everything really) collective, who through the power of music fight injustice wherever its ugly head appears. Unfortunately they know nothing about any of the subjects they campaign against.

The show consists of a collection of well written and astute songs and some improvised songs which were about members of the audience, so be warned don’t sit at the front! And ramblings from the leader of Mundo Jazz, Juan a Panamanian peace campaigner, who is backed up ably by Sergei a Russian ex alcoholic, Haris Habib a French Algerian and a mysterious drummer/violinist who no one is sure were he actually comes from, including himself!

The audience in the Studio theatre were treated to a fantastic night of comedy, music and even unicycle riding (!) by this very imaginative and original comedy band who deserve to be playing on a bigger stage.

Definitely the best comedy act I have ever seen and “one size does fit all” - you've got to see them to get that!

Mundo Jazz are on tour and you can find details of their tour dates here. If you would like to write a review of an event you have seen at the Octagon, then you can email me at

Friday, 5 October 2007

And Did Those Feet - Radio 4 interview

If you were up and about early this morning you might have caught a piece about And Did Those Feet on Radio 4's Today programme. There's an interview with Jeff Hordley (who plays Ted), Les Smith (Writer) and Mark Babych (Director), plus a soundbite from Dick Pym who played in the 1923 FA Cup final. Lovely...

Due to the wonders of modern techno-gadgetry, if you missed it you can listen again here. The interviews feature in the 6.30 - 7am slot (Friday 5th October).

Thursday, 4 October 2007

And Did Those Feet - The Movie....

If you'd like to have a glimpse at what The Stage is talking about here, The Bolton News here, The Daily Mail here and other reviews here, here and here, why not take a look at the little film we have produced below. Once again Donna has done a great job - so thank you Donna.

And in a nice story of art imitating life one of the audience members to a recent performance of And Did Those Feet told our Ticket Office the story of how his wedding day coincided with the day the Bolton Wanderers were due to play in the Cup Final in 1958. He, like Ted in the production, tried to persuade his future wife to postpone the wedding. Unlike Ted, he failed!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Read All About It - The Octagon Column

As part of the 40th Anniversary Season celebrations, we will be featuring a fortnightly column in The Bolton News. The column will appear on a Thursday with the first one being published a couple of weeks ago. The first piece was written by John Blackmore, Executive Director of the Octagon Theatre, in what is also his 40th year in the business.

If you didn't see it in the paper then you can read it here.

The column will feature a mix of faces that have had a connection with the Octagon in the past, present or future. Next up is 'Mr Blonde Bombshells of 1943' himself, Alan Plater, which should feature in tomorrow's edition.

Alan will be returning to the Octagon's auditorium for one night only on 4th November with The Seven Ages of Jazz featuring the Alan Barnes Quintet. You can read more about Alan's deep love of jazz here.

Update: If you didn't get to read Alan's column in yesterdays Bolton News you can read it here.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Mundo Jazz speak

If you're still a bit unsure about what to expect from the unique musical and comedic style of Mundo Jazz and what they are all about take a look at this, or watch the video below as they explain a bit more about themselves in their own unique style! Enjoy....

And Did Those Feet - What's Being Said...

And Did Those Feet is getting some nice reviews. You can read what the MEN thought here, the Guardian here and the review from Burnley Citizen here. I am so glad as I really enjoyed this production (despite being neither a Bolton native nor a Wanderer). Seems that a lot of others felt the same way as the auditorium on press night had a definite buzz.

Lofty the Lion also made an appearance but to the dismay of two of our production staff, who should be old enough to know better, got changed out of his costume before they got a chance to have their picture snapped with him! Don't worry lads, your identity will remain a secret for now.

As I think I may have mentioned before, Arun Ghosh composed and arranged the music for the show, which was simple, elegant and beautiful. Not only that but he also grabbed his clarinet to jam with the band in the bar after the show! Unfortunately I didn't have my camera so no photos so you'll have to take my word for it. Having never seen him perform before, it was a delight to watch him in action. You really should go see him performing in the Bill Naughton Studio Theatre this week.

Children's Theatre - Dragon-Fish

Dragon-Fish is rooted in a traditional tale from Vietnam. The story is about a brother and sister who live together in a tumble-down cottage by the side of a huge lake.

The brother believes that the Dragon King lies at the bottom of the lake but the sister doesn't. In fact, they argue all the time, mostly about the fact that the brother fishes all day long but never catches anything whilst the sister works non-stop to try and grow vegetables to feed the hens, tend the plum trees and clean the house. The only thing she actually does well is make jam.
The brother has a pretend friend with whom he has pretend adventures - much to the annoyance of his sister who tries to wake him from these dreams.

Eventually the brother tries to fish properly but his new hook sinks to the bottom of the lake disturbing the Dragon King himself and so causing the lake to overflow leaving mud and muck all through their tumble-down cottage. Not only that but the brother sees a little girl rising out of the lake and asks him to dive down to the bottom of the lake with her to remove his fishing hook which is stuck in the mouth of her father - the Dragon King.......

Will the brother go with the girl? Will he survive the wrath of the Dragon King? How will he get the hook from the Dragon King's huge jaws?

If you want to know how it all pans out for the brother, the Dragon King and that hook you can read more here.
You can also read the comments of children that have seen the show here or the thoughts of their teachers here.