Earlier this year, the Octagon Theatre announced that Elizabeth Newman was to become the 8th Artistic Director, following David Thacker’s six years in the post. Speaking of her artistic vision for the Theatre’s future, Elizabeth stated: “In the coming years we want to celebrate our loyal audiences and actively reach out to new audiences we’ve yet to meet. We will make more co-productions, work for children and young people, and open our Studio doors to new artists, companies, and theatre makers. In this new programme, which includes world premieres, new partnerships, and unique performances, it is our hope that we’ve begun to bring that vision to life.”
Beginning the new year will be The Broken N Beat Collective, a powerful, funny and contemporary blend of hip hop, theatre, and puppetry presented by Toxteth-based 20 Stories High and Theatre-Rites. Exploring the hardships faced by young people in the UK today, the touring production will be in the Studio from 25 – 27 February.
Also in February is the deadline for the first ever National Octagon Prize (26 February). The Octagon is inviting writers aged over 16 to submit dramatic monolugues to be produced on the Theatre’s stage. Entries will be judged by various industry professionals including Sue Emmas (Associate Artistic Director, Young Vic), Amit Sharma (Associate Director, Graeae), Aisha Khan (Artistic Director, Freedom Studios), Max Stafford-Clark (Artistic Director, Out of Joint), Stella Feehily (playwright), Lawrence Till (former Artistic Director, Octagon Theatre), Sue Roberts (Producer of BBC Audio Drama for Radio 3 and 4, and Editor of The Verb on BBC Radio 3) and Octagon Theatre Artistic Director, Elizabeth Newman.
The first main auditorium production in Elizabeth’s season is a modern classic that considers the frustrations of a generation; Look Back in Anger, written by John Osborne and directed by Sarah Brigham (7 – 30 April). Set in 1950s Derby, the play, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2016, revolutionised the way in which the working class was presented on stage, as protagonist Jimmy Porter struggles with love and life, and his place within it.
In April 2016, the Octagon welcomes a world premiere to the Theatre in the form of The Macbeth Curse, written by the acclaimed Terry Deary, author of the hilarious Horrible Histories books. A joint production between the Octagon and Prime Theatre (previously Sixth Sense Theatre), The Macbeth Curse is a high-speed, historical, and hilarious play exploring the magic and madness of Macbeth and Shakespeare, using a combination of the playwright’s own words, Music Hall songs, and cutting-edge Edwardian theatricality. Directed by Prime Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Powell, the play will tour local schools (11 – 16 April) before its run in the Octagon Studio from 19 – 23 April.
For younger children, the Octagon is introducing Storyplay, during which children will be transported on a literary journey of fun and adventure, brought to life by actors from the Octagon Company, in a relaxed soft-play area. Featuring favourite fairytales Beauty and the Beast, The Ugly Duckling, and a new play, Banter Straw, received as an unsolicited script, the plays are suitable for even the tiniest children, and accompanying adults go free.
Between 11 – 20 May, the main auditorium will host National Theatre Connections; a festival for ages 14+ that honours great new writing for the stage, and the energy, commitment, and talent of young theatre-makers. 2016 will mark the festival’s 21st anniversary, and the National Theatre is celebrating this milestone with incredible new commissions from some of the UK’s most esteemed contemporary playwrights.
Taking work out of the building and to the first site specific work of the year is #ChipShoptheMusical (11 – 21 May), a co-production with Freedom Studios, written by Emma Hill. The musical follows the lives of grime-loving, shy teenager Ayla and disillusioned, brass band-loving, middle-aged Gram, who meet when Ayla applies for a job in Gram’s chip shop. Performed over dinner in Bolton’s locally renowned Olympus fish and chip restaurant, #ChipShoptheMusical is guaranteed to leave audiences of all ages with a satisfied stomach and a spring in their step.
Also in May, the Octagon celebrates its talented, creative community with the annual The Best of Bolton event, in which amateur writers see their scripts, poems, monologues, novels, and songs brought to life on the Octagon’s main stage, directed by Elizabeth Newman and performed by professional actors. Past years have seen the work of over 100 Bolton voices shared with audiences over two days, and the event features performances from Bolton International Writing Project, who share pieces in both English and first languages including Gujarati, Hungarian, and Swahili.
To close our 2015/16 season, our production team will be put through their paces in June when the incomparable classic Singin’ in the Rain (3 – 25 June) tap dances its way on to our stage, directed by Elizabeth Newman. In an exciting co-production between the Octagon, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-lyme, and Salisbury Playhouse, the infamous musical, made famous by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, will be performed in all of its technicolour glory, featuring live music, dance and, of course, rain.
Inspired by the themes of revelation in Singin’ in the Rain, when Kathy is shown to be the true talent behind the curtain, the Octagon will produce its first ever Reveal season (14 – 25 June), curated by Elizabeth Newman, Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme Assistant Director Ben Occhipinti, and Associate Producer Deborah Dickinson. The festival is a fantastic opportunity to experience original and exciting new work made by emerging theatre makers, who will showcase their work over an action-packed two week period.
The main auditorium will welcome a brand new interpretation of a classic, when the Octagon’s New Writing Associate Janys Chambers adapts Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (11 – 13 August). Transporting audiences from the vibrancy of India to the Gothic mystery of the Yorkshire moors, this moving story of a lonely, seemingly unlovable child will be performed by local participants aged 8-25. The project is open to anyone wishing to audition, regardless of experience, and will provide an exciting opportunity for those involved to work alongside our new Artistic Team to create a full-scale production. The young company will be supported during rehearsals by professional actors who, in an exciting reversal of roles, will form the chorus throughout the run.
From a crumbling Yorkshire mansion to the sunkissed seaside, the auditorium will be transformed into Bolton’s very own pleasure beach just in time for the August bank holiday weekend. Audiences are invited to grab a bucket and spade, pull up a deckchair, feel the sand between their toes and enjoy all the fun of the fair, whatever the weather, at the Octagon Pleasure Beach (26 – 29 August), during Bolton’s popular Food and Drink Festival. Those who venture outside may also come across our feminist Fairytales on Foot, which will pop-up and perform at various locations throughout the weekend.
Completing the year will be the beloved story of Cinderella (18 November 2016 – 14 January 2017) - but not as you know it! In this particular tale of romance, the rats are in charge, and will herd audiences through this fun fairytale with singing, dancing, music and magic. Directed by Ben Occhipinti (Jack and the Beanstalk, Spread a Little Happiness, Salisbury Playhouse; Bugsy Malone, Calamity Jane The Egg, Theatre Royal, Bath), and written by the brilliant Mike Kenny, whose adaptation of The Railway Children earned an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment in 2012, this energetic festive production will have all the enchantment of the classic fairytale…but none of the cheese. Speaking of the production, Ben commented: “The Octagon is one of the most talented theatres in the country, so I'm doubly thrilled to be both learning here and being able to stage Mike Kenny's Cinderella. The script is an unexpected and exciting retelling.”
Elizabeth Newman expressed her excitement regarding her first season of work, stating: “I am incredibly proud to be at the helm of the Octagon. I’ve been compelled to create a programme that inspires the hearts and minds of loyal friends and new audiences we’ve yet to meet. We are thrilled that our mini-season will feature new plays, classics, contemporary dramas and musicals, and we cannot wait to welcome more children and young people into the Theatre all year round to experience theatre.
Our new season is also about reaching out to artists. We intend our National Octagon Writing Prize and our first Reveal season to signal to artists working locally, regionally and nationally that they can find a home in Bolton. Don’t be surprised if from April 2016 you start to find exciting, colourful events happening in all sorts of places in our community – schools and streets, parks and precincts. The Octagon will now make theatre outside, and online, as well as inside our unique theatre.”