Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The hollyoaks and the ivy...

I have just had news that stage door and ticket office employee extraordinaire and actress, the very lovely Tara, will be appearing in Hollyoaks soon. You can see her in action on the spoiler promo below (she plays a nurse) or tune in to the box on Monday.

If you can't view the video above you can also see it here. Many congratulations lady. Here's looking at you kid...

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


What with all that is going on in the auditorium with our production of Oliver Twist taking us back to Victorian London, it seems that the weather is getting in on the act with a scene outside the theatre that could be a Victorian Christmas Card...if you ignore the cars of course!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Please sir, can we have some!

Due to popular demand (you know who you are) I have uploaded some more photos of Oliver Twist. We are lucky enough to have two teams of youngsters playing the role of the 'urchins' in the production so it was only fair I uploaded some images of the team not featured previously. So this is their chance to shine...

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Who did it first?

I mean't to post about this a while ago and then promptly forgot. I am sure that most of you will be aware that Bolton's own Peter Kay did the single for this year's Children In Need. I am just wondering if he used the image for our upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as his inspiration for the singles cover artwork. Or perhaps Bolton folk have a thing for Beatles album covers.

A Midsummer Night's Dream...

Children in Need

So who copied who? You decide. I just have to add here we launched our Season Brochure complete with image back in April so, as Peter would say, think on!

The Enemies Within - the reviews...

"The use of the actual language of the miners, their wives and the police — many of whom would admit to buying houses on the back of the strike — by writer Ron Rose works brilliantly and brings out the emotion and true depth of feeling that still resonates in the affected communities. People lost jobs, respect, dignity, families and lives, and the enormous significance comes across in emotive speeches magnificently delivered." THE BOLTON NEWS Read more here...

"Thacker and his cast are obviously utterly, passionately, devoted to the piece and the performances are all absolutely exceptional. It’s a truly brilliant ensemble that quite rightly got a standing ovation. *****" MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS Read more here...

"A quarter-century on, current affairs may have become modern history, but the issues remain, and the characters leap up alive as ever...the whole group play with utter conviction..It’s essential history, and riveting carries with rhetorical force the underlying point of protest." REVIEWSGATE. Read more here...

The Enemies Within - production photos

As promised here are a few photos from The Enemies Within. I have been hearing nothing but excellent things about the show from audiences and colleagues. I can't comment personally as I am yet to see it but I am hoping to later in the week. I am ashamed to admit I don;t see nearly enough of our studio work so I am hoping this kicks me into more direct action.

Since reading about this show, it has tuned me in to industrial relations. Namely, the situation with Royal Mail and their hardworking posties (in this techno capable day and age we have forgotten the valuable and often essential service these people offered in times gone by and still today) and the action by British Airways cabin crew that could scupper many a festive holiday plan. So, although it is 25 years since the Great Miner's Strike, it is extremely relevant right now.

Anyway, here are the photos...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

MEN awards - photos

A few photos of Octagon folk at the MEN awards have been published on their website. Here are a few...

The very beautiful Kosha Engler (Oleanna and nominee for Best Actress in a Leading Role) and our own and equally glamorous Parvati Pindoria (nominee and dare I say it winner of Best Smile). Kosha won the Octagon Theatre award for the Best Shoes of the night. It was a very discerning panel and the decision was unanimous!

Winner of Biza award, Vanessa Kirby, and her boyfriend Christian Cook aka The Beautifuls. Oh and then there was this...the dapper John Blackmore Adams less good looking relation!

If that hasn't scared you off you can see more photos and also read the Twitter stream from the awards here.

The Enemies Within - Now Showing...

The Enemies Within opened in our Studio last night. It seems to be going down really well with audiences. Here are just a few comments from our front of house reports:

"Very good how they managed such long speeches."

"Everyone was captivated even though it was only a small audience."

"It was almost as powerful as when it was actually happening."

"Very moving."

"Very poignant."

"Emotionally draining. The actors must be exhausted!"


I will be posting some production photos in due course. You can see the photos of the 1985 production here.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Manhunt at the Octagon

We have these people coming to the Octagon tomorrow from BBC Radio Manchester. Emma will be talking to some of the cast of Oliver Twist and they will be taking her through her paces on the stage. I hope she likes gruel!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

MEN awards

I think I have only just calmed down enough to compose something about the MEN awards yesterday. I haven't been to the awards myself before having to satisfy myself with living vicariously through the texts sent back so I can update the blog with news as it happened. But this year I was there with bells on hence, the delay in posting.

It was a truly great day. Not just generally for theatre in Manchester which not only seems to be surviving these challenging times but is positively flourishing, but specifically for the Octagon. We were not only nominated for 11 awards, we managed to bag a fair few too. The highlights of the day for me were:

Kevin Bourke (and the MEN panel)
Kevin received a wonderful response from the assembled crowd and I think his (and the rest of the panels) efforts and their monumental support of the regions theatre scene is just wonderful.

Aled Jones
Prior to presenting his award his shameless plugging of the Lowry's Christmas Show, White Christmas, was brilliantly pitched and rather hilarious. Still a bit disappointed that there wasn't a rendition of Walking in the Air....

Vanessa Kirby
Because it took as all by surprise (not because she was undeserving but because we didn't know the award existed) and her reaction, the moment Vanessa was given an award and a lump of cash for Up and Coming talent was a delight. As well as being a future star (and being beautiful to boot) she couldn't be a nicer girl.

Best Production
Although, I was disappointed not to have won this one, especially seeing as we had two such strong contenders in Oleanna and All My Sons (must.. not.. say... we was robbed!) I am very glad that the award went to Punk Rock, a piece of new writing by a Stockport lad Simon Stephens. It shows that the new writing scene is healthy and there are exciting things happening in Manchester.

The Octagon Love In
The extra special thing for me was how kind everyone one was about the Octagon. Especially Oscar Pearce, Nick Haverson and Tim Healy and how positive their experiences were here. I sat next to Oscar at dinner and it was lovely to hear him talk of how he loved the Octagon, loved David, love the staff, loved the audiences. "Life changing" he said and I couldn't agree more. Working here is an absolute joy and I am so proud to do so. The fact we won a few awards for what we do is just the icing on the cake and I can't wait to see what the next few months bring. To quote Roger Haines, winner of this years Horniman award, "Darlings, I love the theatre".

Talking of winners, and I know I have mentioned a few above, the Octagon winners were:






OSCAR PEARCE, in All My Sons


TIM HEALY, in Looking For Buddy

Congratulations to the award winners and to all those that work here that make it so completely awesome. You're the best....

You can read more about the awards here, here and here.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Audience Feedback

I received a nice email from one of our regluar attenders today. It's always nice when audiences write and tell us what they think and to know that they read this blog.

From: Donald Judge
Sent: 05 December 2009 10:22
To: sally boyd
Subject: RE: Octagon Theatre news - Oliver Twist Reviews

Dear Sally

Thank you for this. I get to most shows at The Octagon, and while occasionally I don't like a play, I'm always impressed with the productions and the acting. Recently, I thought The Merchant of Venice and All My Sons were among the best of the very many productions I've seen in the past year.

I saw Oliver Twist on Thursday afternoon, in the company of a large primary school party - always a measure of how good a show is! Their reactions and concentration in the 'quiet' bits confirmed just how good a version and production this is. I've seen some of Deborah McAndrew's work elsewhere and thought the script was terrific - allowing youngsters to follow the story, and us oldies to see the deeper bits. I thought the violence was especially well done, bearing in mind that many of the audience will be of a tender age. I loved the music, and the way actors switched from role to role was most impressive.

On the train going to Bolton I read Natalie Anglesey's review, and thought I might be a bit disappointed, but not a bit... And while I still rate Oliver! as one of the really great musicals, it was refreshing to see the story presented differently... And with Pantos everywhere, this was a welcome antidote! As a retired teacher, I hope you have many schools through your doors to experience 'real' theatre of such excellent quality.

Thanks also for the link to the blog, which makes very interesting reading.

Looking forward to my next visit to the Octagon.
Best wishes
Donald Judge

Thanks Donald. If any of you kind readers would like to submit your comments you can do so in the comments section of each post.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Great Miners Strike

There was a nice piece in 24:7 in The Bolton News today on The Enemies Within. They interviewed David and some of the cast. You can read it here...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Design Mind Meld

You may remember I mentioned a while back the show that is currently in rehearsal The Enemies Within. I talk about it here. Anyway, we went to meet up with the cast the other day to talk about the production.

Firstly, it struck me how passionate they all are about this piece and the subject matter - the Great Miner's Strike 1984 - 85. Now, although I am aware of the strike, I have to plead complete ignorance about the whys and the wherefores. I was not the most politically aware 10 year old so that may explain it.

Secondly, we were going through some of the print and photos from the 1985. Howard had also saved the programme from the original production and I was struck but how similar the original programme was to the print we have produced. Have a look... it seems our designer must have some time travel and psychic design skills

1985 programme..
2009 leaflet...

I have also uploaded a few production shots from 1985. This is how the cast looked back in 1985. They haven't changed a bit....

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Oliver Twist - the movie...

To celebrate what is a truly wonderful festive show we have brought back, possibly for a limited time only, one of the blog''s most popular features the show video promo. Not only can you see some footage from the show, you also get a glimpse of the show in rehearsal and the wonderful and charismatic Josette (Director) talking about the show. So definitely worth a look - go on, you know you want to....

Call For New Scripts for 24:7 2010

And now for a short message from the lovely folk at 24:7.

Although it's cold today, flash forward to next summer! Your show may be one of those participating in 24:7 Season Seven...

From today until 14 January you can submit a script for adjudication. It must be original, unpublished and no longer than 60 minutes. We seek to present premières, so your script must not have been performed in a mainstream context, in any medium. If it has had a rehearsed reading or ‘test’ performances, that may be OK. If you have questions about a specific submission, it would be best to email us before submitting.We can confirm that the reading fee has been maintained at £30 per script submitted.

Full details are available on the website, along with the new online submissions procedure.

If you want to see what you might be up against then four shows from this summer's Festival have been invited as part of the Library Theatre's third Re:Play Festival. Good luck and get scribbling.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Lights, camera, action...

Just a reminder that the wonderful young cast of Oliver Twist will be performing from 6pm at the Bolton Lights Switch On on Thursday 3 December.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Oliver Twist - the reviews...

It seems that the reviews has started to come in and the first, it seems, largely agrees with my own review!

"A large, highly-talented ensemble of actor-musicians, directed perceptively by Josette Bushell-Mingo, a succession of catchy Lionel Bart-style songs and a wonderfully atmospheric set, all subfusc and smoky, add up to a delightful show for Christmas with universal appeal." THE STAGE Read more here...

Another glowing review...

"It is genuinely hard to find fault with the production, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. To paraphrase the show’s title character: “Please, Octagon. Can we have some more?” WHAT'S ON STAGE. Read more here...

"The show has enough of the feel of a theatrical extravaganza, the flavour of a gaudy musical and yet the intimacy of the dark social novel on which it is based to beguile all ages." THE INDEPENDENT Read more here...

"If there's a more finely detailed, authentically Dickensian performance this year, I shall eat my head as well. ****" THE GUARDIAN Read more here...

"Dawn Allsopp's quasi-expressionist set... Robert Pickavance's snakily self-interested Fagin... Andrew Price's blustering Mr Brownlow... Esther Ruth Elliott's tortured Nancy... Tim Frances's murderous, drink-bemused Bill Sikes... fast-paced, interlocking narratives (cleverly segued in Deborah McAndrew's astute adaptation and delivered with dramatic drive in Josette Bushell-Mingo's tumultuous production, modulated by Conrad Nelson's atmospheric score..." THE OBSERVER Read more here...

"HERE is a confession. I have no great liking for Charles Dickens...and the prospect of spending two hours watching a theatrical version of one of his novels...did not fill me with festive joy. So here comes confession number two — I’m converted. I take it all back. Josette Bushell-Mingo’s re-imagining of Oliver Twist is cinematic, clever, great fun and a little bit scary — all the things that I loved about stories as a child." THE BOLTON NEWS Read more here...

"the production at Bolton this festive season is laced throughout with catchy songs and dances... Robert Pickavance is an oleaginous and sycophantic Fagin; Tim Frances is excellent comic value as Mr Bumble... This version of Oliver Twist is sweet without being saccharine, and addresses the iniquities of Victorian England without being too scary for a younger audience. Judging by the reaction from the stalls on Friday night, this is a really excellent Christmas show for the whole family." UKTHEATRE NET Read more here...

"a splendid and fresh approach to a text...the cast are uniformly excellent...But it is the set by Dawn Allsopp that is this shows real star, a cobbled London street with real smoking chimneys and hidden entrances that really steals the show, it is quite frankly the best set I have seen in regional theatre in many years." THE PUBLIC REVIEWS Read more here...

"Vigorous and spirited: a Dickens of a show....The approach is neatly pictured in the programme’s cover image; the face of a boy, puzzled, inquiring, sad against a bleak urban background recalling the Stephen Daldry/Ian MacNeil Inspector Calls: more children, sad or hopeful, a dark figure staking way behind underneath a gallows. Mixing theatrical verve and humanity, this is a fine Christmas gift of a production." REVIEWSGATE Read more here...

Other reviews and links

Read CityLife review here
Read British Theatre Guie review here
An interview with Director Josette Bushell-Mingo here.

Oliver Twist - production photos

It was press night of Oliver Twist on Friday and those of you that read this blog regularly will have seen a few advance images of the show. The show really was quite wonderful. The cast, as usual with our festive productions, were incredible as they acted, sang and played their way across an amazing set. There was so much to be impressed by so here are a few of my favourite things.

The set - I have said it before and I will say it again. The set looks spectacular. With the addition of great lighting, I love the lanterns particularly, and the smoke coming from the chimneys, it makes our intimate theatre seem, well, so much bigger in every sense. And with that, koudos to our awesome technical team and production staff for the mean feat of putting on such a mammoth show. You continue to amaze me.

The music - sounds fantastic with some wonderful harmonies and beautiful musicianship. The choreography of instrument handover is an amazing feat in itself. I particularly loved the musical scene in the undertakers that felt very Tim Burton. The exaggerated facial expressions, movement and music combined to look almost like a fantastical piece of animation. Wonderful...

The talent - the fact that the cast can not only sing, dance and act as well as play multiple characters, they seem to be able to turn their hand to many a different instrument. On top of that, the young cast, many of whom won't have acted on a main stage before, were wonderful. Especially considering the limited time they had to rehearse with the cast due to school commitments. I must mention Oliver himself but also the young gent that played Noah who, in my opinion, was on a par with his professional counterparts. Credit must go to the human dynamo that is Lizzie Newman for her dedicated work with 'her babies'.

The costumes - are also stunning. Well done wardrobe ladies - you are a marvel. And if you are not sure what to do with Nancy's jacket after the show I am staking my claim right now...Am also liking Mr Bumble's coat but not sure I would get away with this as day wear.
And last but not least the photos - I think we have captured some really beautiful moments from the show so thanks to Ian Tilton for capturing the moments and to Jon and David for their artistic and discerning eye. Good job all.

So many things to love and I haven't even mentioned the mulled wine and mince pies. All in all, a wonderful and fantastical show and I can't wait to see it all over it!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Dicken's is in the building...

After much giddiness having seen the set and hearing the harmonious singing of carols around the building, plus decking the halls and the tree the anticpiation for Oliver Twist is palpable. Well, it is at my desk anyway. This has been compounded by the fact we open tonight, hence the dress was this afternoon and thusly, no production photos until...well right about now! For your delectation and prior to the show actually opening you get to see a couple of the photos before even our first night audiences.... you lucky people!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Christmas carols mixed with moments of high drama…

I am delighted to announce, thanks to the invaluable help from and guidance of Elizabeth Newman, the young company from Oliver Twist will present a theatrical medley of Christmas treats to celebrate Bolton’s Christmas Lights Switch On on 3 December at 6pm.

This Christmas extravaganza will be performed by the Brownlow Team, and you will get to meet every young character in the play Charley, Noah, Dodger and of course Oliver will make an appearance along with some not so well known young'ens - Bonicolt, Williams, the Farndale twins, Knobbleton, Bluggard, the Trot sisters, Badger and Christian.

The performance will include some of the most famous moments from this much loved Dickens story and I guarantee you will definitely leave wanting more!

Sneak preview...

We will be entering tech week next for Oliver Twist. Although I can't believe the festive show has come about so quickly, I am more than a little excited for one of several reasons. I loved A Christmas Carol (also Dickens of course), the cast are a bunch of super nice people, Josette, the Director, is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met and I admire her immensely and then there is Dawn Allsopp's set.

It never ceases to amaze me how changeable the auditorium is and there is always something marvellous and magical about the set for the festive show. So without futher ado here is a sneak I don't want to ruin it for you so I have just included images of a few areas rather than it in its entirety but if you would rather wait for the show to open then close you eyes now...

Amazingly, these are images taken of the model for the set not the actually thing that is in the process of being constructed in our workshop but what a wonderful model. So detailed, so life like. Loving your work Dawn!

And next week perhaps some costumes...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

activ8 making news...

There is a nice piece in the Bolton News about some of activ8's recent work with schools and how drama can be used to improve literacy. Plus there is a nice picture of the our own ever youthful Lynsey Merrick. You can read more here...

Strike at the Octagon!

The title might be a bit misleading as we are not joining the likes of Royal Mail and going on strike ourselves but we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Great Miners’ Strike when David revives his acclaimed production The Enemies Within by Ron Rose (Mon 14 December - Sat 19 December).

The play was created in 1985 using real-life accounts of striking miners and their families following interviews conducted by writer Ron Rose, David and the cast. The play uses their exact words to tell the real stories that members of this Yorkshire mining community felt compelled to tell.

The Enemies Within is a co-production between the Octagon and London-based Azure Theatre Productions. It will be the first Octagon-produced production to be staged in the theatre’s newly renovated Studio theatre. The show will go on to be performed at The Crucible in Sheffield – in the heart of the country most affected by the strike.

David recently directed a highly regarded BBC film, Faith, set in the 1984/5 strike. He is very excited about to be once again investigating this significant period in British history. He told me:

“I’m thrilled that, thanks to the generosity of Azure Theatre Productions, we are able to re-present The Enemies Within. With the distance of 25 years, The Enemies Within is a deeply moving and compelling retrospective look at the most important industrial relations dispute since the 1926 General Strike.”

Most of the original cast of Thacker’s groundbreaking production return to present this story, and it includes two actors who have recently performed here at the Octagon. Margot Leicester appeared in All My Sons and Ghosts, while Barbara Marten played Sylvia Gellburg in Broken Glass. They are joined by Howard Crossley, David MacCreedy, Barbara Peirson, Martin Riley, Stephen Tiller, Dyfed Thomas and Annie Tyson.

Ron Rose has written more than 60 plays performed by many of the country’s leading theatres. His extensive television credits include The Bill, Heartbeat, Between the Lines and the critically acclaimed Love and Reason.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Mixed Up North - tour reviews..

After playing here, Mixed Up North went on a national tour. Hence it has picked up some more reviews. I thought I woudl share them so if you saw the show you can read what is being said and if didn't you can see what you missed!

"Muzz Khan [above] is near-perfect as the lanky, occasionally bolshie Uday. Perhaps it is because he grew up near Burnley that Muzz brings such realism to his part. Or maybe it is simply a formidable acting talent...Under the sure direction of Max Stafford-Clark this clever often very funny play makes some profound points...However most of the audience of schoolchildren in the performance I saw were a mix of races. And they really loved it." DAILY EXPRESS Read more here...

"Outstandingly cast and acted, Robert Soans's play is its youthful momentum. Most of the cast, including Lisa Kerr as slack-jawed dancer Kylie and Kashif Khan as foul-mouthed Sarfraz, are fresh out of drama school.Enthusiastic pupils from Camden, north London, and Eton, Berkshire, were going head-to-head with the cast after that performance. An East End audience under 25 years old, the theatre's neighbours in fact, will be the most discerning critics of Mixed Up North, which should be in the diary of every local councillor, and every something-or-other worker."
THE INDEPENDENT Read more here...

"Bracing, combative and oddly joyous… Beautifully directed by Max Stafford-Clark, it's a verbatim piece by the best of verbatim authors, Robin Soans... Highly recommended ****" THE INDEPENDENT Read more here...

"Celia Imrie's tremendously entertaining performance would, on its own, make this show worth seeing. But as it happens, every member of the cast (most of whom worked on the show in its earlier stages at Lamda) is a delight to watch – even if their stories are anything but delightful...Max Stafford-Clark gives a masterclass here: his direction is fresh, funny, spontaneous and he makes you feel that this is theatre that really matters."
THE OBSERVER Read more here...

"The material is sensitive, and there are moments of arresting power. There’s also some ebullient comedy...Max Stafford-Clark’s production certainly has zest. There is pert ensemble work, and there are strong performances from Celia Imrie as Trish and Stephanie Street as her assistant Aneesa. In smaller roles, Lisa Kerr and Muzz Khan have charisma." THE EVENING STANDARD Read more here...
Other reviews
THE TIMES Read more here...

Monday, 16 November 2009


A bit of early casting news for A Midsummer Night's Dream and for me an uncanny coincidence. I was having a flick through Grazia (yes I have admitted my love for it before) and found this piece about a new spoof reality show, Cast Offs, coming to Channel 4 in November.

Not only does it star one of the cast [Kiruna Stamell as Carrie - there she is below] from our upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it was shot [and so was this photo shoot by the looks of it] partly near to my hometown in North Norfolk. Here are some of the cast on the glorious Holkham Beach. I look forward to shooting the breeze with Kiruna about the delights of the North Norfolk coast when she arrives for rehearsals after Christmas but if you want to see her in action before then tune in to Cast Offs on Channel4 from 24 November....

The North Norfolk coast has desirable as a location for TV and movies alike. Not only is it the location for Kingdom featuring Stephen Fry and Mixed Up North's Celia Imrie, but also Holkham Beach was used in the All Saints video for Pure Shores [soundtrack to the movie The Beach] and it was also the beach used for Gyneth Paltrow's enigmatic walk at the end of Shakespeare in Love.