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.
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.
Educating Rita – Bolton Octagon
Saturday 4th February 2017
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.