Octagon Theatre, Bolton
|Address||Howell Croft South
|Opened||27 November 1967|
|Architect||Geoffrey H. Brooks|
The Octagon produces between eight and nine professional theatre productions a year in its Main Auditorium. Productions come from a wide range of types and genres, including classic drama, contemporary plays, comedies and musicals.
In recent years, the Octagon has specialised in producing great American drama including works by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
The Octagon also runs its BoltON season, which runs alongside the season of plays in the Main Auditorium, with events investigating or complimenting the main season. This ranges from professional practical workshops to full day Investigate Days with casts and creative team.
In addition to its own productions, the Octagon also plays host to touring shows, including touring theatre, children's plays and stand-up comedy.
The Octagon has two performance spaces:
- The Main Auditorium, is a flexible performance space which can present work in three different configurations (in-the-round, thrust and end-stage) and has a capacity ranging from 300 to 400. Over the course of the season, the Octagon will present work in all of these configurations. Strangely, the Main Auditorium actually has a hexagonal shape, and it is because the name Hexagon Theatre was already in use, in Reading, that the name Octagon Theatre was chosen instead. Then, to add to the confusion, another theatre, The Johnson Hall, in Yeovil, changed its name to the Octagon Theatre too. Stranger yet, the theatre's logo, originally an octagon, has since been replaced with a circle.
- The Bill Naughton Studio Theatre, a studio theatre with a capacity of 100. This smaller space provides a venue for new and adventurous theatre, educational and youth performances.
The Octagon Theatre was opened on 27 November 1967 by The Princess Margaret. Despite the town council and the theatre management having been officially advised, that there would be no requirement for any type of 'comfort facility', for the Royal party, they went ahead, anyway, and installed a lavish loo, with gold plated fittings. Having only ever been used, officially, by the plumbers who needed to test it, following the official opening it was completely stripped out and turned into an office space. The first theatre production was Annie and Fanny by local playwright Bill Naughton.
The building was designed by Geoffrey H. Brooks, Bolton's Director of Architecture, and was constructed for the sum of £95,000 using money raised by public donation. It was the first professional theatre to be built in North West England following World War II.
In 1987 the building was extended to add a studio theatre, originally called the Octopus Studio. In 1994 this space was enlarged and renamed The Bill Naughton Theatre, in honour of Naughton.
In 1998 the Octagon was refurbished using funds from an Arts Council Lottery award. This improved the theatre's seating systems and disability access, and allowed the construction of a new room for business hospitality, and a more spacious bar.
In 1999 a financial crisis threatened to force the Octagon to cease producing its own plays and become a receiving house for touring shows. Local people founded the Support Campaign for the Octagon Theatre, and under the slogan "Keep theatre made in Bolton" collected 12,000 signatures and organised several support events, including a protest march through the town centre and two benefit concerts. Financial commitments were obtained from funders and business sponsors, and the Octagon's status as a producing theatre was secured.
- Peter Kay worked in the theatre's ticket office.
- John Howard performed his earliest live shows at the theatre, from 1970 to 1973.
- Dominic Monaghan appeared in two productions: Annie and Fanny from Bolton to Rome and The Resurrectionists.
- John McArdle has appeared at the theatre and is one of the theatre's patrons.
- Sue Johnston actress who has appeared in a number of the theatres productions including "Two". Also a strong fundraiser for the Theatre over many years.
- John Saint Ryan appeared in three productions: A Streetcar Named Desire, Far From the Madding Crowd and Lass at the Man and Scythe.
- Tim Booth lead singer in the band James starred in the production Saved.
- Tim Healy appeared in the play "Looking for Buddy"
- Jeff Hordley, Emmerdale regular who appeared in the production of "The Caretaker".
- Emma Atkins, appeared in the Jim Cartwright production Two.
- Matthew Kelly, presenter and actor appeared in "Oh what a Lovely War".
- Michelle Collins starred in production of Romeo and Juliet and The Demolition Man.
- Sophie Abelson. actress who appeared in productions relating to the Carry On actress Barbara Windsor.
- Sue Devaney gave an outstanding performance to standing ovations as Mari in 'The Rise and Fall of Little Voice' which ran in June 2012.
- Shobna Gulati performed at a special event designed to raise funds for the theatre in 2013.
- Denise Welch performed in the world premiere production of "The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans" by Jim Cartwright.
- Susannah York starred at the Octagon in "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1989.