Category Archives: Theatre

Theatre Review by Christine Hoey

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Backstage tour – Bolton Octagon

Friday 7 July 2017,

The theatre group enjoyed a fascinating behind the scenes tour of Bolton Octagon. Our guide, Alex, the Octagon’s artistic assistant, was very charming and knowledgeable. Our tour started in the Studio where Alex gave us a brief overview of the Octagon’s 50 year history, including details of the Octagon’s resident ghost, a former wardrobe mistress who died in the theatre, and who is reputed to attend every dress rehearsal. We also had a glimpse into the future with major reconstruction due to begin in June 2018.

From there we visited the green room where we sampled some stage beer, wine and coffee. Further stops were the main stage, box office, bar, actors’ dressing rooms and the top floor rehearsal space. Along the way we were able to ask lots of questions which elicited an array of interesting details about all the behind the scenes thought and practicalities which go into the final production. For example, negotiating with authors and for musical rights is often a long and fraught process which means that the Octagon is already planning for productions they want to put on in 2019. It certainly made us all the more appreciative of the hard work and attention to detail that goes into the process of getting a play from page to stage.

The only pity is that so few members were able to attend what proved to be a very stimulating event. I really hope that if the Octagon offers backstage tours again in the 2017-2018 season that we will have more participants.

Many thanks to Alex for a thoroughly engaging tour.

Christine Hoey

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Theatre Review by Ann France

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Photo credit: Ian Tilton

Talking Heads – Bolton Octagon
Saturday, 24 June 2017

The theatre group visited Bolton Octagon to see three monologues from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, fondly remembered by many who first saw them on television in the late 1980s.

The first, A Chip in the Sugar, featured middle-aged Graham, whose life becomes complicated when his mother, with whom he still lives, reunites with an old flame. This monologue was my favourite of the three. Graham’s mannerisms, his hurt and jealousy, his relationship with his mother and an undercurrent of mental health issues, were all superbly portrayed by actor David Birrell.

The second monologue was A Lady of Letters. Irene is a one woman neighbourhood watch, until her habit of writing letters gets out of hand and eventually lands her in prison. Ironically, Irene is happier in prison and the before and after Irene were both captured excellently by actress Cathy Tyson.

The final monologue was A Cream Cracker under the Settee. Widow Doris, obsessive about tidiness and maintaining her independence, has a fall and discovers the offending cream cracker – in actress Sue Wallace’s case a gluten-free cracker, a snippet of information we gathered on the excellent Octagon backstage tour we went on a couple of weeks later. This monologue, made famous by Thora Hird, was in equally capable hands with actress Sue Wallace, whose quiet performance was very powerful.

This was Bennett at his best. Poignant, observant, witty. Bittersweet tales of ordinary lives.

Ann France

Theatre Review by Christine Hoey

Little Shop of Horrors – Runshaw College Foxholes Restaurant and Amanda Roocroft Theatre

Meal and theatre show.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

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The theatre group had a hugely enjoyable evening, courtesy of catering and hospitality and performing arts students at Runshaw College.

The evening started with a choice of beautifully presented and delicious starters, main courses and desserts in Foxholes, before we adjourned to the packed theatre for the evening’s entertainment.

Based on a Roger Corman B movie from 1960, Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of how a strange and unusual plant, discovered by lowly shop assistant Seymour Krelborn, suddenly turns a struggling flower shop on Skid Row into a huge success, but at a price. Known only to Seymour, the plant (whom he names Audrey II) feeds only on human blood, and as it gets larger, it gets hungrier.

Against this spoof sci-fi/horror backdrop, we witness a blossoming (no pun intended) but ultimately doomed romance as Seymour falls for his colleague Audrey whose sadistic dentist boyfriend is always beating her up. There is also some great ’60s girl group-style commentary from a very talented ensemble of Skid Row street urchins, particularly in one of the opening numbers, Skid Row (Downtown).

Christian Broad is a suitably weedy Seymour who grows in confidence as the plant grows in power. Charlie Millar as Audrey I very effectively captures both her sheer niceness and the poignancy of her circumstances, particularly in the song Somewhere That’s Green and Suddenly, Seymour.

Ben Foster doubles up as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello  and the impressive voice of Audrey II.

On what must have been a very limited budget, the set and costumes were admirable. The plant too, manipulated by unseen puppeteers, was an impressive creation in all its ever growing incarnations.

Performed to very high standards by a talented cast and complemented by a top notch three course meal and coffee, this was a fabulous evening’s entertainment – and all for the princely sum of £15. We are already looking forward to our next visit!

Christine Hoey

Theatre Review by Christine Hoey

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Anita and Me – Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sitting in a chilly auditorium in Blackpool, we were treated to a warm-hearted and humorous performance of this play based on Meera Syal’s semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the 1970s as part of the only Punjabi family in a close-knit all white mining community in the West Midlands. The set design realistically evokes the red brick terraced housing and is spot-on with 1970s interiors.

Aasiya Shah plays Meena, the gawky, bright Punjabi girl who forges an unlikely friendship with the seemingly cool and rebellious Anita (Laura Aramayo). Behind the facade though, Anita is the neglected daughter of an impoverished, troubled family and abandoned by her mother.

The first half of the play shows Meena’s family well integrated in the community. If anything, it is Anita’s family who are ostracised by their neighbours. This makes the violent racist attack on a visiting Punjabi council worker in the second half of the play all the more shocking. However, the play does not delve into the racial politics of the time, but instead focuses on the coming of age story and Meena’s eventual break with Anita.

Meena is surrounded by a loving extended family: her parents (Robert Mountford and ex-Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati), her aunt (Sejal Keshwala) and her formidable grandma, Nanimi, played with great humour and charisma by Rina Fatania.

Education is taken seriously in the play and the academically bright Meena has a glowing future in prospect, whereas Anita is isolated and destined, we are led to believe, for a bleaker future of early pregnancies and troubled relationships, repeating the pattern established by her parents.

Christine Hoey

Theatre Reviews by Christine Hoey & Alastair Thomas

Cyrano

Cyrano – Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster

Saturday 1st April 2017

At just short of three hours’ duration, Northern Broadsides’ touring production of Cyrano engaged all the emotions, with its mix of comedy, romance, music and pathos.

Cyrano is a swashbuckling soldier-poet, in love with his beautiful cousin, Roxane, but convinced that she will never requite his love, owing to his phenomenally prominent hooter.

Christian Edwards (still recognisable under the prosthetic nose as Cosmo from our visit to Singin’ in the Rain) plays Cyrano with the requisite humour, panache and pathos. When Roxane (Sharon Singh) falls in love with the handsome but tongue-tied Christian (Adam Barlow), Cyrano undertakes to provide eloquent and poetic words of courtship on his behalf. A comic highlight is his briefing of his inarticulate love rival on how to woo Roxane.  Left to his own devices, the best Christian can come up with is “I want to nibble your neck. Well, it’s alliteration, isn’t it?”

The ruse is successful and Christian marries Roxane, but within hours he and Cyrano are despatched to the siege of Arras. The dangers, hunger, boredom and privations of the siege are beautifully conveyed via a haunting melody “The Song of the Seasons”.

The final scene, 14 years after the siege, where the widowed Roxane finally realises that the dying Cyrano has loved her all along, is hugely affecting.

With high production values in both costume and set design, the play is very well-acted by all involved. Special mention goes to Francesca Mills who is an eye-catching bundle of energy, lighting up the stage in a series of cameo parts: a nifty pickpocket, apprentice baker and gossip-hungry nun. However, there was not a single weak link in the cast, with many playing several parts – and musical instruments. One of the highlights of the play is the original period-style music excellently performed by the very talented cast.

We hope that Northern Broadsides will visit Lancaster on their next tour.

Christine Hoey


Members of the Theatre Group went to Lancaster to the Duke’s Theatre on 1 April to see a matinée performance of Cyrano.   This was an outstandingly good performance by the theatre company Northern Broadsides in association with the New Vic Theatre of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.  We mentioned that we had come from far Leyland, but our table-companion told us she had travelled from London to see the performance: clearly, Northern Broadsides have a loyal and extensive following.  Having seen them for the first time, I shall watch for their future performances.  They are a touring company and take Cyrano to Scarborough, York, the Lowry, Cheltenham, Bury St Edmunds, Halifax, Derby, and Oxford over the next few months.

The dialogue and repartee were witty, and delivered with impeccable timing.  Act I is set in Paris in 1640, when France was at war against Spain.  Most of the male characters are cadets (junior officers) in the Gascony Guards, so there is plenty of sword-play, very well coached by the appropriately-named Philip D’Orleans.  The rustic origins of the Gascons are well suggested by the use of regional northern English accents, while Roxanne, ‘a brilliant and beautiful young woman’ played by Sharon Singh, spoke with a very ‘refined’ Scottish accent.  Cyrano, of the unmentionably long nose, was played by Christian Edwards, and dominated the action as ‘wing-man’ and speech-maker for Christian de Neuvillette, ‘the new boy in town’, in inarticulate love with Roxanne.  Francesca Mills used her short stature to great advantage, playing an impish pickpocket, apprentice to Ragueneau the Parisian pâtissier poet, and a solemn nun – she held the audience’s attention whenever she appeared.  All the other members of the cast gave polished professional performances.  When music was required, it was provided by the cast on violin, trumpet, flute or drums.  Ligniere, the troubadour guitarist, (played by Michael Hugo) was another comedic continuity character.

The romantic comedy was originally written in rhyming couplets by Edmond Rostand, as a fictionalised account of the real life of Cyrano de Bergerac.  Its first performance in Paris in 1897 drew an hour’s applause at the end.  There have since been many translations and adaptations in English and USAnian (otherwise called American!), and even one in Azerbaijani, for stage and film performance.  This version is a new adaptation in English by Deborah McAndrew.  She retains much of the rhyme and gives the play its French flavour by using many of the expressions in Franglais familiar to us all.  The result is a fresh portrayal of an everlasting theme.  Northern Broadsides performed it with appropriate panache (flamboyant confidence or style or manner).  Comments as we left the theatre were that many of us had not known what to expect, but all of us had enjoyed it immensely.

Alastair Thomas

Theatre Review by John Baggaley

Educating Rita – Bolton Octagon

Saturday 4th February 2017

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On the 4th February 21 members of the Theatre Group visited Bolton Octagon to see ‘Educating Rita’.

This is the story of a middle aged alcoholic university lecturer taking on an Open University student for the fees he could earn. She is a twenty-something working class Liverpool girl who feels the need for education.

He is tired of his life style and she brings a vision of life and a hunger for experience that his usual students do not show. Her speech is full of the humorous descriptions and allusions often shown by Liverpudlians. The play charts Rita’s change from inexperienced uneducated youth to thoughtful confident woman. We witness the effect she has in forcing her teacher to reassess his own life culminating in a forced move to Australia.

The set made full advantage of the audience surrounding the actors and enhanced the vision of a stick in the mud middle aged teacher.

The lecturer, Frank, was played by David Birrell and Rita was played by Jessica Baglow. Both are experienced actors on stage and television.

I found this to be a very enjoyable play as did all those I spoke to.

John Baggaley

Theatre Review by Various Members

Miss Saigon – Chorley Little Theatre.

Friday 13th January 2017

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Friday 13th January was the date of our private screening of Miss Saigon at Chorley Little Theatre.

Based on Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon dramatises a doomed love story involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. In Miss Saigon, the setting is updated to 1970’s Saigon during and after the Vietnam War. Kim is a young bar girl, orphaned by the war, who falls in love with an American GI, Chris, but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.

Eva Noblezada as Kim gives the show real heart with strong singing and assured acting. Kwang-Ho-Hong also makes a very strong impression as Kim’s spurned fiancé, who ends up as a powerful figure in post-war Vietnam. For all of us, however, the standout member of the cast was Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer. When you boil it right down, his character is a sleazy, grubby, manipulative pimp, but played with such charisma and energy, that you almost hope he gets to realise his “American Dream”. Although we realised it would all end in tears, the end of Kim’s story (no spoilers!) still came as a shock.  Post-show comments included:

“The engineer (Jon Jon Briones) was stunning. I will look for other productions he is in.”

“A moving and gripping story, although I would have preferred more dialogue (rather than singing) between the numbers.”

“So refreshingly relevant to the history of Vietnam as shown in the Reconciliation Museum I visited in Saigon.”

“I loved every minute; the ending was heart-breaking.”

Many thanks to Chorley Little Theatre for organising this free special screening for Leyland U3A following the late cancellation (through no fault of theirs) of the screening scheduled for last October. We wanted to reciprocate such a generous offer, and are pleased to say we made a total contribution of over £90 to the theatre on the day, which will go towards the purchase of new seating.

Theatre Group